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Keeping your dog motivated by Richard Curtis

Created: 16/05/2012

Keeping your dog motivated by Richard Curtis

Recently I have started to teach a couple of monthly day workshops near Doncaster and Northampton as well as doing one to one lessons at home. The workshops I enjoy as you get to see handlers on a regular basis and watch them develop. Also from a teaching point of view it’s challenging as each handler gets a short individual time to work on something relevant to them. They can basically ask whatever they want so it might be how they can teach their dog a move through to performing a short piece of the routine for feedback.
It’s nice that there is a wide variety of breeds, some of which I have not worked with before. I do find that if you can get one of the non Collie breeds to work well it does allow you to stand out from the crowd.


Attention and attitude

There are some young dogs in the workshops that could do very well with the right handling. I do find that handlers tend to rush their puppies into doing the moves too early and don’t get the basic attention and control. My advice to someone with a new pup is always to get attention and attitude first. By attitude I mean a desire from the dog to want to be with the handler and interact with them. So I find the best way to get this attitude is through play which can be hard with some dogs. Handlers sometimes give up playing with their dogs as the dog doesn’t appear interested in the toy but this is often because the handler has not animated the toy enough.
There are not many dogs who will not want to chase a rabbit if they see one out on a walk, so if you create this desire to chase during the play with the dog it can unlock its playful side. When people watch me train my dogs, they often comment how energetic I am when working them. This is because you have to create the right energy to motivate the dog to want to play. If you stand still and just throw the toy then a lot of dogs might run out but then lose interest. If you can animate that toy on the end of a cord or a piece of bungee rope as well as move around yourself with it this can stimulate the dog’s chase desire.
During the first lesson of one of the groups it became apparent early on in the session that we needed to look at the dogs’ basic moves. So we spent some time making sure that all the handlers knew how to progress the moves so that they can be done on a vocal. For me if I can get a move onto a vocal command without any physical signal then it means the dog has a good knowledge of the move. It might be that I then decide to put the move onto a physical signal which is part of the routine which I find easier having got the move to a vocal only situation.
Motivation of the dogs across both of the groups was something that needed to be addressed as well. I find that handlers can get into a habit of feeding the dog food and thinking that this is all they have to do to motivate the dog. There is so much that you can do to make the reward more motivating and several things which you can do as a handler in the way you move. Sometimes handlers joke on my workshops that it is more like a keep fit workout than a heelwork to music workshop.
Another observation I made was that some of the handlers didn’t use their voices to praise or engage that dog. Engaging the dog with the voice I think is very important as it’s the one thing that you have in the ring with you. Recently I had a handler come to me for a one-to-one lesson at home and I noticed that she could be quite negative with her voice. It’s easy to get into that nagging situation when verbally communicating with the dog. If you keep telling the dog "no, don’t do that, come here” and use their name constantly then it’s no wonder the dog will turn off and find other things which excite it. Sometimes a handler doesn’t realise they are doing it, so I had to keep reminding them to try to be upbeat with their voice and use different tones/words to engage the dog.
The other problem this dog had was that it was only used to working in a hall, so with the individual lesson being outside the dog became very distracted. The classic saying of ‘he does it at home’ always comes out at this stage and I’m sure he does do it well at home as it is a familiar situation. Sometimes handlers give up when they are in a new place as the dog is looking at all the distractions and not at them. This is where you have to have patience and read the dog. Some dogs take a long while to settle and have to have a good look round before they can concentrate. This is what we did with the dog in question and after an hour of little pieces of work the dog started to work through some of the moves it could do. For me all this dog needs is to get out and about doing some basic work in different environments. It’s important not to expect too much too soon as handlers often expect the dog to be as good as it is at home when it is at a new place.


Different locations

With all this teaching I have been doing recently it can mean that you don’t get time to train your own dogs. For me though I use these different places I teach at to get my dogs use to a new environment. As I have mentioned before Tikka my young Border Collie is still needing to grow up and get her confidence. This is slowly coming and to help it I have been taking her into the different locations and just playing with her. I am looking for her to go straight into a venue and play as all my training is really playtime for the dog. At home her basics have been coming along well especially since I have had a little more time since completing the first stage of the renovations of the house.
With the other dogs it has been more of a case of developing what they can already do. Having recently qualified little Betty into advanced my attention now turns to her next routine. Deciding on the right piece of music and theme can be problematic. There are so many things I take into account before I decide on the chosen theme. I thought I had decided on an idea but then thought perhaps I should give her something a little easier to do. So I then found another track/idea which I thought I could develop. Now you never know when you might hear a track that you could use. Having thought I had found the right track I was then watching the television and heard a piece which could be equally as good. So it’s back to the drawing board for Betty’s music for her next routine.


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