Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Training Tips: Labradors Underfoot

Labradors love their people and are often clingy and underfoot. Wanting to be with me where ever I am is one of the things I find endearing about my Labs, but I do not want them to trip me or inhibit my movement. This picture from a few years ago shows some of my dogs "helping" us put up a fence so we can keep them out of my garden (they raid the veggies!). As you can see, they decided it was their job to hold down the dirt dug for the post hole.

Labs need to learn not to get underfoot. Do it as a training lesson. Personally I am a clicker trainer, but there are many ways to teach anything. Here is one way: Using your calm, assertive energy walk toward him - into him if necessary - and tell him "move" (or whatever cue you want to use). As he moves praise and reward him with a treat. Repeat many times. Soon he will understand what "move" means and give you your space. You can teach him "get back" = back up, "away" = move away from the area, or whatever else you think of that might be handy. The more you words you teach him the better it will be for all of you.

I teach mine to stay "out of my zone" at the stove when I am cooking - they line up along the opposite side and that's fine - it's like an invisible line. I don't tell them they have to be there. It's not a "down, stay" - they are free to go do what ever they want. But, if they want to be near me when I am cooking they must stay out of my zone and most of them choose to lie as close as is permitted which is at the invisible edge. If someone drops a glass and they run in thinking to lick whatever spilled I stop them from getting near broken glass (or whatever) with my "away" cue. And they all learn "move" so I don't stumble over them. They also know to lie out of the way when I carry in groceries -- everyone gets a piece of carrot once I am finished. They are always with me, lie on my feet or on my lap and follow me everywhere (including to the bathroom), but they are not allowed to be dangerously underfoot.

Don't wait until your need these behaviors or your dog is tripping you. Teach them as a training lesson when you have time to focus. Give your dog your undivided attention for those few minutes and make sure he gives you his. Repetition is key to getting the cue word associated with the action. Doing it this way can make it a fun game for everyone and you have some very handy cues when you need them.

For more Lab inspirations visit my OtterTail Lab Art.
Happy Training!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

New Funny Labrador Retriever Drawing

I wanted to create a simple, cute, funny and appealing Labrador Retriever drawing that I could adapt repeatedly to different designs and use in multiple ways. I came up with this guy. What do you think?

I have made him in this black version as well as yellow and chocolate with 2 sets of words. One says "Lab = Love" and "Support Labrador Retriever Rescue" underneath and the other says "I Need A Home To Call My Own" with "Adopt a Labrador Retriever" underneath. I made both available on a large assortment of products in my OtterTail Art for Dog Lovers Shop. The section dedicated to Rudy's Rescue has both versions and the special section for LabMed has the latter wording. 100% of profits from all sales in both of these sections are donated to the respective non-profit Lab rescue groups.

I would like to make another version available in my general store and am wondering what wording, if any, I should include. I would love it if some of you would leave feedback regarding which you would prefer - design with no words or with words (maybe Lab = Love as shown here or something else by itself). If you have a suggestion of words you would like to see, please share that too! There is also a full painting featuring a chocolate version of this dog available on products in the Rudy's Rescue section of my shop. Look for more variations in the future.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Training Tips: Barking to order dinner

Some dogs learn to bark as a way to boss people around. This guy is a Lab I rescued from a shelter in KY. He came to me about 30 lbs overweight, had been "the man's dog" and made it clear he had no respect for women. He had learned to boss those in his previous home to giving him food (and whatever he wanted) on demand. I have dealt with a few rescue dogs who barked before dinner. I like to train with operant conditioning - which lets the dog think he is training you and is an effective, positive approach to fixing problem behaviors with bossy dogs (works great on submissive dogs too). Your timing is important in all kinds of training and is critical for dogs to get the message. You can use a clicker or not (read more about clicker training online. I like Karen Pryor's site at: Another tip I will interject here is the use of the word "Wrong" (which I learned from Gary Wilkes). It is said in a non-emotional, normal, quiet voice and it means "that behavior will not be reinforced, please try again". It is not the same as "No" - which means "Stop it!". Keep your cues and signals clear and unique if you want your dog to learn quickly.

Let's pretend you do not have a clicker, but want to start getting control of barking before the next meal. You are getting ready to feed your boisterous boy and he starts barking - perfect time to say "wrong", and go sit down and ignore him. If this is the first time you have ever used the word "wrong", do not expect him to understand it at all. It is meaningless to him right now. But, keep using it and he will learn by association so that it will become very meaningful in the future. Just remember to use it consistently and not interchangeably with "NO"! When you sit down and ignore him you should get a response to your behavior - it may not happen instantly, but the dog will stop barking. He stops, you say "good" or "good quiet" (if you want to teach the cue "quiet" you can teach it by association this way) and get up to go feed again. Barking resumes - say "wrong", go sit down again. Eventually he will stop barking more quickly and you can progress to stopping in your tracks instead of going back to sit down. When he stops barking say "good quiet" and move forward to proceed with feeding. Do not command "quiet!" while his is barking - he doesn't know what it means yet and you will just be yelling over him. Get the behavior first, then attach the cue. Continue this little dance of moving forward when he is quiet and stopping in your tracks or backing up and sitting down when he barks. Shortly your dog will learn he is controlling your actions with his behavior. You only progress toward the desired destination (dinner prep) when he is quiet. He barks-you stop, he's quiet-you proceed. He is the "operator" - that is the heart of operant conditioning. It is very powerful; we all want to feel we have some control of things that happen to us and this makes the message very clear to dogs because you are communicating in a jointly understood language. We all learn fast this way because the feedback is meaningful. As in all training, don't expect perfection the 1st time, but build on it with each session and have lots of successful sessions.

Some trainers don't like the idea of pairing the praise with the cue (e.g. "good quiet"), but it works for me. I do it both ways. Leave out the cue if you are in that camp. However, if your dog is just being quiet on his own during the day, telling him "good quiet" then will not be meaningful to him and will dilute or negate it as a cue, so remember to make your use of words relevant if you want to teach your dog to understand your language.

BTW, this guy learned quickly that he was not going to get fed when he bossed me. He is a dominant, very smart dog who gave me many challenges and taught me a lot. He still prefers men, but he respects everyone now - as long as they are a Pack Leader.

Happy Training!