First training exercises

I came home from our first lesson at Julie’s with a few games, as she called the training exercises, to play with Chico. That’s one thing I love about training with Julie: it’s all a game, if human and dog aren’t both having fun, something needs to change.

Since loud noises startled Chico (making him bark like a maniac), one of the first games Julie gave us to play was one I called “bang.” A round of bang started with me making a precarious tower of stainless steel mixing bowls and empty cans. If Chico would knock over the stack with a confident swipe of his paw, making quite a noise, I would click and give a generous reward. And then restack everything so we could have another round. We must have played this game for three to five minutes a day** for five or six weeks before he seemed not to need it anymore.

There was something about making that big bunch of noise and getting handsomely rewarded for it that made Chico start to think that crashes, bangs and other sudden noises weren’t actually so bad.

When he lost his cool at the vet’s office (see I never wanted the dog) she was leaning over him, so Julie surmised that he was uncomfortable if he felt crowded. To combat this, we played a game where Chico was rewarded for being willing to lie down under my leg. I’d put one knee on the floor and make an arch by bending the other leg. At first I lured him under there by reaching a hand holding a treat through the arch and withdrawing it as he followed, but soon Chico happily scooted under my leg to get a click and a treat.

Chico needed to learn to come to me when I wanted him. I learned to make a very obvious gesture, raising my arm above my head, hand a loose fist with one finger extended, and dropping my arm out to my side, about 120 of the 180 degrees available to it in that plane. This left me pointing at the ground beside me, the tip of my extended finger at dog-nose height. Chico’s job, his way to win this game and earn a treat, was to come to that pointing finger and touch it with his nose. Nose-touch finger, click, treat; repeat. We still practice this one.

My house isn’t so big, and with a couple feet of snow on the ground, it was an interesting challenge to get more than 10 feet away from Chico so we could practice this finger-touch skill. I ended up taking him to the horse barn where I ride (yes, Chico comes with me, but that’s a story for another day) and playing the finger-touch game. After work the barn was all closed up against the cold so Chico couldn’t get in any trouble if he chose not to do his job

** I was startled to realize that five minutes of dog training, done daily, can make a huge difference, if it’s kept up. And I read, somewhere out there on the internets, that, for a dog, five minutes of expending the mental energy that learning something new requires is as tiring as an hour or two of outside play.

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