This is Ira the Therapy Dog and his Dane buddy, Cooper. https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1361170793
Of all the obedience “commands”, I want 2 in particular to be so solid as to be second nature: their name means look at me, and come. The down, stay, wait and such are very important too, but name and come are lifesavers for us both.
When they were little, 8-16 weeks old, anytime they looked at me, followed me, or came to me was rewarded heavily. And then we began little “come” games from Sue Ailsby’s clicker training levels http://www.sue-eh.ca/page24/page26/styled/
Now at 4-6 mo old, their name and come games are getting harder, and more rewarding. There are distractions to ignore, like kids running nearby, and shopping carts, and car horns, and people walking between us. Sue’s level 1 needs a 20 foot distance accomplished to move on to level 2, but I am less concerned about distance than distraction.
Come is made up of many parts, and if you have broken it down into those parts, you’ll know where the come went wrong if they don’t finish the behavoir chain. There is 1) recognizing a cue, such as a name or whistle, 2) disengaging their interest from what they were doing, 3) moving their bodies towards you, 4) ignoring distractions 5) proximity to you.
Some people may want a come front, where the pup sits directly in front of them, some may want the pup to take up a heel position…but the basic come has 5 seperate behaviors in the chain. There are dogs that won’t disengage, dogs that will start your way but get distracted by their best doggie bud over there, and dogs that will get near but not stop where you want them.
If you practice and reward each and every step of the come, the odds are the pup will put all those related parts together in order. My pup will have learned their name means look at me, so they have to disengage once they recognize that cue to get their reward.
A pup that is coming to me can see my excitement and the wonderful reward I have for them, which helps them ignore other things. We’ve also practiced ignoring movements and sounds and smells, so they are primed to ignore. And reaching me has killer good rewards every time, and not the same ones, either! Mix it up for fun!
The life of an SDit (service dog in training) is crammed full of noise, movement, and scent distractions. Just go to a Target and close your eyes for awhile if you don’t believe me. They have to become king of ignore! So I will spend as long as I must in level 1 come at 20 feet to get it smack down perfect regardless of what’s around.
Every time I call their name and they look, they get a click and treat, and usually a lovely big hug. The problem with my past Danes was they get bored with repetition: the same old thing with the same old treat just gets deadly dull. So I had to find better treats as the ignore it became harder, and more than just treats for a reward.
Affection, laughter, an infectiously happy and proud emotional response from you makes the “obedience” a fun and bonding experience.
At 4-6 mo old, a Dane pup may be pushing 100 pounds, but their brains and behavoirs are far from mature–they’re still “little”!
So play, and fun, and love are the best rewards of all. We have to deal with the “stubborns” at this age, and the “do it how I want” ways of a developing puppy. But that’s okay, because I want a grown up dog that can think for themselves: I want a problem solver!
So the name means look becomes “if I look, she might have my jolly ball, that’s better than sniffing the grass”. The trick is not to set the pup up to fail: don’t call them if there’s a chance they won’t come. Never let your little Einstein figure out they can ignore you!
If you think your pup is such a nose hound they won’t disengage their attention from that spot in the grass, go back to the beginning. Be right next to them, and wordlessly lure their nose up with a favorite treat or toy. Even lifting their nose by one inch is worthy of a click and reward! They disengaged the nose–take it and reward it and build on it.
If your pup is likely to lose interest in you on the way and go play with their pal, then practice ignoring their pal as a seperate step. Make getting to play with their pal a reward for the come chain. They only get taken off leash to play with their pal if they look at you and take a step or two to you.
If you have to, have a friend hold their leash and reward each and every step in the come chain as they go. And don’t be surprised if what a puppy was good at a couple weeks ago goes to pot on you this week. You’re working with a creature that is changing physically and emotionally every day. They aren’t grown up yet!
PS. I have paid a deposit on a new puppy. It will be a blue male Great Dane, from Lean on Me Great Danes, a kennel in Hungary. He is only a few days old right now, but in 2 months, the “rubber meets the road”, and I move from laying out a plan of training to living out a plan.
So I got 2 months to finish my planning! Not to mention getting new carpet, a digital recorder to record grocery, park and other sounds…a new puppy bed, line up a doggie day care for socializing, decide on a food, stock up on treats, get new collars/leashes…Here comes the fun folks, for real, and lots of PICTURES!