Training for the real world of distractions.
–by Johanna Teresi
Last month we discussed how to train an Emergency Come (EC) command in simple environments (inside your home and in your backyard). This month we will teach you how to train the EC to work in a world full of distractions. If you haven't completed the homework in last month's article, make sure you do so before proceeding (www.catalystmagazine.net).
First, make a list of as many distractions as you can. Write it in hierarchal order from the easiest distraction for your dog to ignore to the hardest: say, types of food, other animals and toys.
You will need:
• as many of these distractions as you can gather
• two other people
• a large aluminum foil pie pan
• your special chosen treat
Variables you control:
• the distance your dog needs to run to come to you
• the number of distractions
• the type of distractions in the environment
When changing one variable, you will relax the other variables. For example, when using a new distraction, the distance should be relaxed. When increasing the distance, the type of distraction should be easy. Of course, you want to begin training with only one distraction at a time. Only when you get a consistent and reliable EC response to one distraction should you progress to two or more.
Remember to decrease the EC distance when adding more distractions. Increase the distance only when your dog comes well with a specific distraction at a short distance. Start training the EC inside your house rather than outside. Then you will graduate to training the EC in your backyard and finally in other outside environments.
Now let's get training!
Person #1 holds your dog by the collar, and you stand five to 10 feet away. Place the chosen distraction (such as a pig's ear) between you and Person #1, in your dog's predicted path.
Person #2 stands close to the distraction holding the pie pan.
You walk up to Person #1 and blatantly show your dog the special treats. Then you immediately run away from your dog, past the distraction, while simultaneously saying the EC command.
Person #1 lets go of your dog's collar. Stop running when you are about 10 feet away from your dog's starting point. Person #2 should be ready to cover the distraction with the pie pan if your dog attempts to investigate the distraction.
If your dog comes readily and barely pays attention to the distraction, reward him with 20-30 seconds of treats as described in last month's article. You may also let him interact with the distraction briefly. Repeat the exercise five to 10 times.
Now stand five feet away from your dog when you show the treat, and run an extra five to 10 feet. Repeat this increased distance five to 10 times. Finally, stand stationary 10 feet away and use the EC. Repeat this exercise until your dog responds to the EC without paying attention to the completely visible distraction. In other words, Person #2 should no longer need to cover the distraction with a pie pan.
Now you will increase the EC distance with that particular distraction by one to two feet and repeat the exercise. Gradually increase the EC distance in one- to two-foot increments until your dog comes when you are 20 to 50 feet away.
Repeat the entire process with the next distraction on your list, and the next until you have completed the above exercise with all of the distractions on the list. Finally, practice these mastered distractions in your backyard and then in more public environments.
What do you do if your dog just isn't coming with a particular distraction? As emphasized in last month's article, do not repeat the command. Approach your dog and display the special treat, but take the treat and act like you are eating it. If another dog is around, praise that dog while giving him the treat instead. This works particularly well if you own more than one dog or if another dog is readily available. Now start the exercise over and call him again, but make the exercise easier by changing one or more of the variables as described above (say, the distance or the environment). You may also need to prompt your dog by running away or showing the treats before calling.
If you (or you dog) has trouble getting the concept, contact a professional reward-based trainer. Most are listed on APDT.com or ClickerTeachers.net.
Work hard, and soon you will be able to walk your dog off leash with an excellent response to the EC!
Johanna Teresi is a professional dog trainer and owner of Four Legged Scholars LLC. fourleggedscholars.com.