A humbling experience - something for folks to consider when giving training advice
Wanting to be mentored in the use of an ecollar, I spent a few hours this Saturday with a police trainer my team respects. He is responsible for training the K9 officers in his department.
My main problem is that 2.5 year old Beau will just blow me off when offlead at a distance, is not outing the toy, and in general can be a bit too wild to deal with properly at home. He is a lot more of a challenging dog to handle than I have had before. He is also an incredible hunting machine. Not one iota of problems with him being aggressive toward me or others or any nerve issues.
Now, I have had dogs in my life since my childhood in the 60s, with them being GSDs since 1985. I have trained and certified two operational cadaver dogs, Grim who was certified annually 2008-2012 and Beau 2012-present. The certification is a combination of offlead obedience control and scent work. I trained Cyra as a live find dog before that. My neighbors are always amazed at how much better Beau is behaved than their own dogs.
Fast forward. I go in and take the words that are hard to hear but must be heard:
1) You are not being consistent in corrections. Variable reinforcement may work for reward but not for correction.
2) You are not being fair with your corrections. Your dog is warning you he could come up the lead if you push too hard, because he is a soft dog, not a hard dog. Boy did me and my teammate miss that one. So he is taking away my prong and this Friday we are fitting him for a nylon slip collar. [he does not like the kind with the clip]
3) He is upping my standards for precision obedience which he expects. The NAPWDA obedience control test is intended to demonstrate offlead control (heel at different speeds, long down, drop on recall etc.) and ours is good enough to "pass" but we need to tighten it up particularly with Beau.
4) Even on searching, he pointed out some subtle things I am doing with my body language to cue the dog [mind you the hides were totally unknown to me, but changes in my body language while he was working odor]. And Beau is keying in on that body language and looking for it.
5) He showed me some more technique on outing and he will do more on Friday. He does not like having the dog down but wants me to have the dog high so his front legs cant hit the ground and give him the sit command. He has to let go to sit. Correction for noncompliance. With the dog in the down, he is not as clear what the correction is for because he IS down. Then the return to bite the tug is (for now) immediate. We are also switching to a harder stiffer tug (high pressure heater hose with a dowel in it).
Now he does support the use of an ecollar for us, and all his unit dogs use one, but we have a good bit to remedial work before we start using it.
Thought long and hard about posting this but I often see folks giving advice which could mess up a dog they have not even seen when it is clear they, themselves, don't know what they are talking about. I try to stay away from giving training advice and recommend people find a good trainer and only give general SAR advice.
Both Beau and I came back from our day looking at each other like "what just happened?" - it was surreal and hard to explain. Basically, he has been pushing for position (rank) and we are putting me back in control - and nothing he did was harsh or cruel but it will change our relationship. So much to learn. A lot of stuff I already knew intellectually that has not been making its way properly down the lead.
Find a good trainer is all I can say! One on one. Don't take the hard stuff personally. If you want to be the best you can be, you have to check the ego at the door.
Wow. Eye opening, for sure.
The more I learn here, the more I realize how much I still need to learn.
Beau is going to help you become a great handler Nancy. With the right guidance, which it seems you have found, the connection he has with you will become a really special thing. I'm excited for you. It's a double edged sword though. You can cue him easily because of it as well.
When I have a handler with this problem, I tell them to totally ignore the dog while working. I make them talk to me while the dog is working. Control can be added later, after independence is strong in the dog.
I'm glad to hear you are coming off the prong and going to the e-collar, especially if the prong is causing conflict. I'd hate to see him come up the leash, as it would set you back
(in your mind, not his) and would create more conflict between you.
To add to what sounds like really sound advice:
Consistent corrections can often be far lower in intensity because the message is far more clear to the dog. As he matures, he will need clear and precise communication to allow him the freedom you need while maintaining the control you need. I love the part about variable corrections not working like variable rewards. That's gold.
Do you do any kind of training to increase obedience to odor?
Yup. You work really hard trying to learn about training and practicing skills and think oh I'm gonna show this great trainer I know my stuff and next thing you know he's like what the **** are you doing that looks like crap. There's always a better trainer out there.
Some stuff I've been told before
Stop training like a girl
Your dog did great you on the other hand are a mess
Are you trying to kill his drive on purpose or are you really that clueless?
Stop just stop!
That dude has a tail, I swear he does.
It is funny the subtle things an experienced trainer can pick up on. I like the police (the trainers - I am sure some of the K9 handlers are on the same learning curve as I) because it is real. There are real consequences if their dog bites improperly or is not reliable with detection work. We really *thought* he was a hard independent dog. I guess, maybe, he is *rank* dog but I don't know. I think I don't know anything right now :). But that is ok. I certainly know how teammates feel when we have them take a dog back to the foundation.
Fortunately, I have not had issues with him false alerting, perhaps, by doing the things I know we do to mess our dogs up (like standing, staring at the distracter etc.) but I think dogs are so good at reading body language who knows? My crutch may be that I have been good enough at reading his body language that most of the time I can tell the difference between "interesting odor" and "source odor".
We have done speed drills on our own where someone is behind you with a long line, you work a row of boxes and keep moving and the dog needs to indicate quickly and stay with source while you keep moving but it has been awhile and I was going to ask him about those. I have not done these drills with Beau but have worked the wall enough to see the value in primary reward. Will definitely work with him on all these things.
Right now he is very independent with his searching and does not look to me while working an area scanning for odor, but does look to me when the time comes to make a final decision. Subtle subtle subtle little changes in my body language the average civilian would not notice. Does that make sense?
I really love this post, thank you for sharing with us.
Absolutely must be humble about dog training, and your own dogs. Taking good advice without letting it wound your ego - absolutely check your ego at the door. How else can you grow? I have no issue saying I am a novice - I am, and from there I can learn and grow and become stronger from whatever advice and truth is handed to me. I feel sorry for those who cannot take criticism, cannot be humble, cannot be honest... they will never grow.
The dog is so cued into our body language. They read us better than other people do, ya know?
Right now I am still in a "whoa" mindset. Guess I am soft and have not fully recovered from the correction. Shifting around paradigms some. A big challenge with trusting a trainer is knowing the quality of the person you are working with - but I know him to be well respected by the "right" people and have enough book learning to say..the things he said made sense
I train dogs to ignore me on odor. I start with box drills, and a leash on a harness. Once the dog finals, I apply rearward pressure to the harness right before I reward. I start to the rear because opposition reflex drives the dog toward the hide, setting them up for success. If the dog leaves, just give a quick nope and then back to search.
I increase the distraction incrementally with the leash until the dog will not leave the hide under leash pressure in any direction. After they get it, you can drag the dog off the hide and it will not take it's eyes off it, and will return immediately and final.
After the leash distraction work is solid, I move to voice distraction. I start small and then get bigger as the dog can handle it. The only thing I won't do is proof against recall.
If you need a more indepth description, let me know.
I would also run this by the trainer to see what he thinks, but I'm sure you would do that anyways.
What I see after doing this is that the dog will intentionally ignore me when on odor, on or off leash, no matter what.
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