Why is “Down” one of those tricks that dogs really need in their repertoire?
“Down” (meaning lie down, not ‘get off’ or ‘get down’ – I use “Off” for that) is a great behaviour to help your dog learn how to settle, how to respond appropriately. It also helps them manage their emotions. An excited dog will find it hard to stay in a down, but equally a dog in a down will find it hard to stay excited.
Once you have a “Down” and a “Stay” (or a “Down” and a “Release” or “Break”/”Free”) then you can do distance work. It’s great for dogs who are hyperattached to you, who shadow you or follow you about. It’s also great for separation anxiety, and you’ll find a lot of programmes for separation anxiety ask you to train this behaviour. It’s brilliant for manners. A dog in a down is not jumping over your guests, or thieving from the table. It’s all about impulse control.
You’ll find down in competition work as well, if you want to do obedience or ringsports. It can be a way for dogs doing scent work to show that they’ve hit their target too. It’s not just a staple for basic manners. If you have a working gundog, a down is vital – you don’t want your dog getting in the way of the other animals or the guns. A down is as much about a settle and about impulse control as it is anything else.
You’ll find also several positions of down. One is the sphinx down.
This is the one you’ll find most in competition or in command work. Some dogs lie like this more naturally without being taught
And others have a more “side saddle” approach or a relaxed down, that won’t wash in competition but is great if you don’t fancy winning any medals
Some dogs also have a kind of “spatchcock chicken” or froggie leg down
Whichever works for your dog is great if you don’t have a preference. I think they’ll tend to choose the one that is most comfortable. I’ve never seen any of mine except Tilly do the spatchcock chicken one. She never does a sphinx one. Heston does sphinx and side-saddle, and so did Amigo. You can always also teach both. I like a side-saddle down for a relax, and a sphinx down as a down that means “you’re still on the clock, dog!” simply because side-saddle seems to be easier on the joints and is more akin to a normal resting position. My sphinx down is just “Down”, and my soft relaxed down is “Settle”.
So whatever works for you is fine unless you are doing competitions. It’s the stillness that counts.
If you are planning on doing obedience, you might want to follow a special programme to help you with positions and making them exact from the beginning, but for the rest of us, it’s not such a big deal. If you’re planning on doing competitions, you’ll want to be working on transitions and you’re better off checking out with an obedience competition trainer before you even start this behaviour, as the way they do it is a hard habit to change or break.
So, how do you teach a “Down?”
The fastest way is to lure a couple of times with a treat in your hand, and then to fake the dog out, use an empty hand as a lure and then reward in position. Where you reward is vital. If you are standing and you don’t reward in place, you’ll end up with a dog who ‘pops up’ quickly and finds it harder to do a sustained down.
Something to be aware of: if you’ve already taught a sit, you can lure from a sit, but your dog may always think it has to sit first.
You want your dog to know down from a standing position as well as down from a sit.
Just a note: trainer extraordinaire Kathy Sdao says that “Down” is very close to “Bow” in sound, so if you’re teaching a bow first (which well you might) you might want a word or phrase that is different. She uses “Queen” in “Who’s your Queen?” and “Tah-dah!” for her dog bows, which is pretty cute.
If you have a little dog, putting them on a table or higher platform can really help you. Then you can see what you are doing. Groomers’ tables are great for this, but you can just as well use the kitchen or dining room table. I like to do this with my big dogs as well – some vets insist on using a table and nothing is worse than trying to yoink a 30kg dog onto a table in the vets. If you’ve got an ‘on’ and a ‘down’, you’ve got a dog who can do it by themselves. Stick a chin target in there and you’ve a dog who has three perfect behaviours in the vet office
Once you’ve taught this behaviour, you’re in a great position to teach down at a distance, down in areas with more distractions, down on a mat. You can teach them to cross their paws too, which is also cute.
You can use it for down in their bed and teach new behaviours that are rooted firmly in this behaviour. It’s also good for ‘roll over’ (called ‘show me your wiener’ and ‘show me your lady’ in this house) which will be another trick to teach in the future as it’s GREAT for all kinds of animal husbandry, nail clipping and undercarriage maintenance. You can also use it to teach a ‘play dead’ or a full roll-over.
Once you’ve taught it, you can build it up until it’s a really strong behaviour in all kinds of environments and for all kinds of variable durations. Add distractions, add things that are going to make them want to pop up, and practise – practise – practise!
So, you’ve already learned nose-to-hand touch, and if you’ve got a young nose bopper, they’ll have taken to it straight away. Why would you also want a chin target?
The answer is pretty simple. A nose touch is great fun for bopping. But generally, I’ve found it pretty hard to get a sustained nose target where your dog holds their nose there for a longer period of time. For masters of clicker training, it’s fine. If you’ve got great timing and a patient dog, you can prolong those nose targets for longer and longer periods.
But for us mere mortals with shouty dogs or teenage dogs, it’s not so easy.
I think there’s a reason for that. I want you to imagine those poor children in the past who were sent to stand in the corner as a punishment. Not looking at things and being up close to a surface is not pleasant in itself. I think Lidy likes bopping things with her nose. She bops me with her nose often enough. But to train her to sustain that nose targeting would be hard work and not particularly rewarding for either of us. It’d be like standing in the corner with nothing to see as a punishment.
A chin target is much less difficult in that it asks the dog to do something that is much less unpleasant in itself. Therefore, I think the psychology behind why it’s easier to build it up so your dog can hold their head there is much more straightforward: it’s not unpleasant. They can see you. You can get eye contact with them. They have more freedom to see the world around them.
Chin targeting to a hand is sometimes called a ‘calming chin target’. In reality there’s nothing particularly calming about it. It just asks a dog to hold a position. But it has the bonus of calming too, for many dogs. It’s all that being still.
Because we mere mortals can get a sustained chin target more easily, where we want to keep a dog in place, it’s great for getting your dog to be still. Chin targeting is great for vet visits, animal husbandry, clipping nails, and it can be pretty cute if you train it to other places as well. Who can resist a dog who comes up and places their chin on your lap? It’s an inoffensive and quite charming way to get attention in ways that don’t involve barking, dancing, humping, yapping, pawing or mouthing. If you have a dog who likes to get your attention, it is a nice target to teach, providing you have a dog at the right height! If you have a little dog, you can also teach them to target to a foot.
This is Chirag Patel using what I’d say is a half and half chin/nose target for vet stuff… so you can see how useful it is. Also a very good one to teach for muzzle training too.
Since the dog can remove their head at any point (it’s their choice to place it there), you can then use it for consent with handling, vaccinations and so on. It stops their eyes wandering and minimises panic. A chin targeted on my hand is a way of communicating between you. Your dog’s head on your hand is a way for your dog to say, “this is okay. I’m fine with this.”
It’s also nice for many dogs too, because many dogs like the under chin petting or scratching. They seem to prefer it much more than the old pat on the head that so many people are so fond of.
Most of us are just going to use this to encourage calm behaviours especially around distractions, but it can be good also for therapy dogs or assistance dogs.
For chin targeting, you need a good cue. You can, of course, use ‘chin’, but if you’re going to teach ‘spin’ later, you might want something less similar. Luckily, the actions are very different, so it’s not perhaps as confusing as ‘down’ and ‘bow’, for example.
I use the word ‘place’ for Lidy and Heston. Amigo’s cue was ‘Be Cute!’ as he targeted my knees with his chin. I use ‘Chin’ with Tilly because I have no desire or need to teach her how to spin, and I taught her last. I have no idea why I didn’t stick with ‘place’, but that’s humans for you. You can have different cues for different places you want the dog to target. I think ‘Be cute!’ would be a nice one to follow on from ‘Place!’ or ‘Chin!’
You will need also to make sure that your dog knows what to do with the rest of its body. Do you want them to sit, stand or lie down? A down and a chin target on your knee leaves your hands free for all sorts of things. You can ask for a down and then a chin target very easily.
Chin targets are another way, along with Watch! or a nose target, that you can keep your dog focused on you if they are aggressive, reactive or fearful. If you have an over-excited dog, it can help with that too. I really like this behaviour for fearful dogs: it really seems to offer them security to have that contact, but you may need to do a little work to get them used to your hand approaching them.
Since you need your dog to be calm, you may need to think about what you’re using as reinforcement and how you are marking the behaviour you like. If the food is really too overexciting, you can use less valuable food, or try this after they’ve had a good meal with some of their regular food as the reward. Using a toy is not particularly a good tactic unless you are working with a super-focused dog who has impulse control in the bag. Not impossible but one to save for those times where you want to give more of a challenge.
Remember, don’t lean over your dog or crowd them.
If your dog already has a good hand touch, it’s easy to slip your other hand under their chin and hold your target hand a little away from their nose. You can also use your Wait! or your Watch! commands as part of it. It’s easy to lure the behaviour at the beginning to help your dog understand what behaviour you want them to do.
You may find, as with a nose-to-hand target, that your dog tries to paw you, especially if they’ve already learned ‘paw’ as a command. This is why I don’t teach paw until much later in the sequence. Once you’ve taught paw movements, there’s no going back, and it can lead to a lot of trialling with pawing. I find dogs learn to distinguish quickly between this and a nose target, because your hand is in a different position completely. If you have already taught paw, you may find that bringing your dog closer to you so that they can’t move their paw up so easily may help you.
You can also teach your dog to place their chin on other things, like chairs or low tables. As I’ve said, I like a lap target. Can you just imagine if you walked into a busy vet surgery and every dog was docked on their owners’ lap like Amigo was with me? How easy would those vet visits be?!
This great video also shows you how to capture only behaviour where there is no paw offered.
You can also use a mat or towel as part of the learning process too, which will also stop dogs offering the behaviour all the time. As usual, if the behaviour is on cue (ie you only reward it with food or petting when you ask for it) you’ll stop that behaviour popping out willy-nilly, spilling out whenever you don’t want it. Nobody wants a dog coming and sticking its chin on you when you’re fast asleep!
As you can see, it’s a great and versatile behaviour that allows you to do all kinds of animal husbandry and grooming once you’ve built it up. It’s also one of the most endearing ways to teach your dog a polite way to get your attention. A dog who jumps all over you isn’t great, but a dog who places his chin on your lap is a dream. It’s a nice way for your dog to say ‘hi! I’d love a bit of a fuss please!’
In tribute to my Amigo, who died on March 29th 2018.
Last week, I was looking at “Take it!”, which is a great behaviour to teach a dog as part of programmes to keep their mouths busy. It also teaches them to wait for permission before putting something in their mouths. If you’ve taught “Wait!” then “Take it!” is the perfect cue to let your dogs know that now is the time that they can get what it is they’re waiting for, if it’s a toy or a food item. “Take it!” and “Leave it!” are great skills to help dogs understand what they can and can’t have. They’re both great for impulse control and for helping your dogs understand about patience.
“Take it!” is also great for avoiding potential guarding problems. A dog who is adept at “Drop!”, “Wait!”, “Take it!” and “Leave it!” is a dog who is happy to learn how to trade with you. A food or toy guarder, by their very nature, has already learned to use their mouth to help them out, and so putting those behaviours on cue and making them fun helps you avoid all manner of self-employed robbery, pick-pocketing and menacing later in your puppy’s life.
Once you’ve got “Take it!”, you can use it so easily every time your dog eats even if you feed from a bowl twice a day. That’s at least 14 trials of “Wait!” and “Take it!” every single week, even if you don’t play much with your dogs.
“Fetch!” is another really useful behaviour, as well as a trick. Whilst holding stuff in their mouth, carrying it and giving it up are great, “Fetch!” is lots of fun and takes it that bit further.
Obviously, you can’t teach fetch without a good hold!
When I first got Heston six years ago, nobody thought to tell me that it’s easier to work backwards. Luckily, he quickly got the notion to bring things back to me. It’s one of the reasons I was convinced he was a retriever X. And he has a bit of labrador in those genes for sure. But if you have a terrier, how many of us throw a toy for our puppy only for them to teach themselves a M-A-G-N-I-F-I-C-E-N-T new game… a terrier’s favourite game… “Chase me!”
Picture the scene…
You throw a toy. Your terrier runs after it delightedly. It picks the toy up. You call your terrier back… and…. it runs off into the distance to dissect it under a bush.
Some terrier owners have got savvy to this and use flirt poles and tug toys, knowing that a terrier can’t run off with a flirt pole and they love a game of tug almost as much as they love a game of “Chase me!”
Other dogs don’t get that they’re meant to a) grab the toy or b) bring it back. Effel my foster beauceron spent weeks chasing tennis balls happily, never even nosing the ball. Not a chance he was going to pick it up and bring it back.
Tobby my ancient old rescue mali got as far as “Take it!” before he arrived here and never wanted to relinquish, chase or retrieve.
Not everyone is lucky to have themselves a Heston who learns forward first by chasing a ball, picking it up and bringing it back.
But fetching stuff is such a great skill. If you don’t fancy a walk, if they’ve got a burst of energy, if you want to keep your dog near you when off-lead, if you want a part-time assistance dog who can pick up your washing and bring it to you, fetch is a skill that makes the most of our human-canine bond. It gives dogs a helpful job to do at times. At others, it keeps them occupied and helps them burn off steam. You can see why so many people who have working scent dogs use ‘Fetch!’ with their dogs.
Pair it up with “Find it!” or scenting and you have a very, very good game of hide-and-seek that can be used for so many reasons. First, it’s a great game to keep your dogs busy. Second it’s a very useful thing. Attach a special keyring to your keys and if you’ve got a dog who’s been trained to find it and fetch them, you’re never going to lose your keys again.
“Fetch!” has practical applications in all sorts of dog activities: obedience, ringsports, frisbee, gundog trials to name but four. It’s such an addictive activity that many professional trainers use it as the reward for their detection dogs. When you see a dog searching an avalanche for humans, you might not even wonder why they’re doing it. Often, why they’re doing it is that their game (whatever it is) is based on successful location of an item. They may work for hours on bombsites or on earthquake sites, in busy airports or in nightclubs simply for a game. Along with tug, it’s one of the tricks up the sleeve of many professional trainers, and you can often see a sneaky tug toy or ball on handlers. And if you’ve got a dog working around drugs, excrement or human bodies, you can see why you need a game and not a food reward.
A dog who has a mild obsession with “Fetch!” is a dog who is hanging around you on a walk. Guess how far Heston is from me on walks when I have his favourite squeaky rugby ball? For many dogs, toys end up being a much more powerful reward than food. It also fulfills very different needs. It’s not about eating. It’s about play. It taps into predatory behaviours. A dog who has a good “Fetch!” has a behaviour that you can use instead of food.
And that is the side-effect of games like this: they can be highly addictive to your dog, so be aware of that before you start. As with all physical games, make sure you are on even terrain, that your dog is in good health and that you are not playing two hours of Fetch with a young dog whose bones are still growing. It’s one reason why I like to teach a dog to come around the back of me and chase the ball or toy rather than dancing around in front of me waiting for me to throw it. They at least have a chance of seeing where they are going, and yes, I know dogs daft enough to run into trees or over the edge of a slope or cliff because they are that fixated on the target. It’s one reason I prefer ‘Find it!’ and ‘Fetch!’ eventually, because that way you a) aren’t being pestered as often to throw something and b) your dog isn’t that fixated on a ball that they’ll run into a fence.
To teach “Fetch!”, it’s really helpful to have a “Drop!” cue and a “Take it!” behaviour so that the dog is used to taking things in their mouth and they’re also used to giving them up. If you’ve taught “Give!” as a separate behaviour to “Drop!” you’ll find your dog more able to give to your hand and differentiate between that and spitting something out on the floor. That might not seem so important until you’ve got a really bad back and you don’t understand why your dog keeps dropping stuff on the floor instead of putting it in your hands. You may also want to think about teaching “Take it!” as a cue that means “take from hands” compared to “Get it!” which means “take from wherever it is”. That is also useful for precision. In themselves, they aren’t massively different to us, but they are to a dog. That can help you with troubleshooting, and also with a ‘business retrieve’ for competition work.
A dog who thinks “Take it!” means always from your hands won’t perhaps generalise that it also means they can get things from the floor, from a table, from under a bush. This is why I use “Get it!” as well. “Take it!” is for things on my person. “Get it!” is for things that are not on my person.
A dog who thinks “Drop!” means the item must go on the floor isn’t going to understand why you keep holding your hand out. “Give!” is a nice way to get them to give it to your hand rather than “Drop!”. You might not think that is important until you have a dog who’s brought back a mangled pheasant or you want to spit out half a clod of chewed-up cowpat.
Here’s a great video on training the whole “Fetch!” behaviour, back to front.
Start with mouthing and holding the object, then holding it for longer periods of time.
You then start throwing the object short distances before increasing the distance.
One of the biggest problems can be getting the dog to hold the object for longer periods of time. If that’s happening, you will need to slowly shape that hold, so that the dog is doing it for longer and longer periods. Make sure you choose something that is easy for the dog to hold (which is why I started Effel on tennis balls even though I don’t ever use tennis balls when playing fetch) and that the dog is rewarded for holding.
Once you have a great fetch behaviour, you’ve got a brilliant way to encourage recall, to keep a dog working with you in your space instead of buggering off and to keep your dog fit. For your dog, there are two types of reward: those you have to teach them to like, and those you don’t. You don’t have to teach a dog that sausage is yummy. You do have to teach them that fetching is fun. Some of these ‘secondary’ reinforcers that need teaching at first then become ‘primary’ – you don’t need to keep rewarding a dog with hot dog for it to still be fun. It’ll always be fun whether it comes with hot dog or not. Whereas normally, an taught reinforcement, like Pavlov’s bell, stops meaning anything fun once you break the connection with the primary reward. If you ‘de-couple’ hotdogs and bells, the bell stops making the dog salivate. That happens if you stop pairing your clicker or your marker word with a reward. That’s not true though when you de-couple hot dog and fetch games. Then fetch is fun all on its own.
For many dogs, a game becomes much more fun than food ever can be.
That’s why Heston’s Game Face looks more excited and interested than his Food Face.
Now that Game Face is great for focus – and it’s what handlers look for in competition, in agility, in trials, in work. Don’t get me wrong, some dogs are happy with food. My cocker spaniel Tilly is one of those. But other dogs have other drives. Playing fetch is a great way to tap into those.
Besides, even the most crass of the punishment-based trainer accept that game play is a happy middle ground. Although if you follow these methods, you’ve got no need for old-fashioned ear pinches or other cruel and unethical methods!
Here’s Philippa Williams’ amazing gundogs at Crufts showing what you might do with your “Fetch!”
But you could also use it as a base to help your dog find your keys, fetch their lead, bring your slippers, fetch the newspaper or just enjoy a good old game in the garden! A ‘Fetch!’ junkie has a very reinforcing behaviour in their repertoire that you can use as a reward for all sorts of other behaviours.
As always, be careful with what you ask your dog to fetch. With rebounds and direct catches, there is a risk that the item can get lodged in the dog’s mouth. Ropes can get all yucky and germy. Frisbees can be awfully heavy. Make sure you check out safety concerns, don’t use tennis balls or small balls that could end up choking your dog, and make sure you keep the objects clean. It’s a good time to check out a canine first aid course so you’re prepared for small hiccups when you start doing anything remotely energetic with your dog.
Recall is one of those skills that is absolutely crucial. You might have thought that I’d have put it at number 1, and you’d have good reason to make that argument. But some of those things you’ve taught before can also help you with recall, giving you a range of ways to get your dog coming back to you.
A dog with an instinctive recall is a dog you can let off lead wherever you like. A dog with a rock-solid recall can enjoy the world around them and will not have to do such self-employed things like charging up to other dogs or people, or engaging in chase activities. They’re dogs you can have off-lead around other animals, around cars, around joggers, around cats and around a range of environmental stimuli.
All dogs have their own challenges where recall is concerned. Some of those behaviours are based in predation. They just love truffle-hunting. They enjoy rooting around in bushes. They love running. They love chasing. Something moves in the distance and they don’t care if it’s a car or a cow – they’ve just got to investigate. They have stuff and they don’t want you to have it. They have stuff and they don’t want other dogs to have it. They want to eat stuff or drink stuff. They want to wander off and roll in something foul.
Some of those behaviours are based in emotion: they’re fearful and they want to get away. They are lacking in confidence and they’re looking to hide. Some are based in fearful aggression: they want to create distance by charging up to strangers, shouting the odds at a strange dog or seeing off anything that crosses the boundary of their comfort zone. Some are based in joy: chasing, racing and rolling.
Recall behaviours are ones you can start to capture and encourage as soon as the puppies start moving independently. Imagine how much easier it is if your dog has already practised ‘Come!’ fifteen times a day in the four or five weeks until they get to you. That’d be over 500 practice goes that they already have under their belt!
But most of us leave it until they are older – nine or ten weeks at the least – and we miss out on all that valuable time. Not only that, it comes at a time when puppies want to explore the world and investigate.
And that’s what recall comes down to: You vs The Environment.
You can find other recall information on my post about poor recall that will help you with older dogs or in understanding in more detail. If you have a really, really challenging dog, you may also find Susan Garrett’s Recallers programme to be massively beneficial. Absolute Dogs have a programme that will also help. Other resources such as Leslie McDevitt’s Control Unleashed and Emily Larlham’s Harnessing the Hunter will also be a really good investment.
But I wanted to give you ten quick games you can play with your dog to help their recall. You will need to practise these in the home (on-lead and then off-lead) in the garden (also on-lead and off-lead), out in the environment (on-lead, on a long line, with a dropped long line, off-lead) and then in more challenging environments.
Recall can be repetitive and boring for us, and for our dogs. Finding ways to make coming back to us exciting makes it much more pleasurable and that means we’re much more likely to be effective.
The most important thing to bear in mind is challenge:
Start at the bottom and work to the top!
You might find some of this will need adapting. I know dogs who find their own garden massively overwhelming.
Don’t forget you can also play with:
Calm vs excitable
Distance FROM distraction vs Distance FROM you
All of the games that follow can be practised at different points on the Challenge Ladder. If it’s too hard, go back down a step. Try to make sure your dog doesn’t fail with recall. It only takes one super-pleasurable cat chase for your dog to learn that cat chasing is The Best Thing Ever Invented. Coming back? Yeah, not so much.
If you mess with one factor and make it more challenging, bring the others down again. Just because my dog’s recall is great off-lead in the house doesn’t mean that it will be in the garden, so put them back on a shorter lead, then a longer lead, then a dropped lead, then no-lead.
And you can mess with the rewards you use too. Food is only one. Toys, games, smells and behaviours are some others. Not amazing to find that the speed with which Miss Lidy-la-Louve was completing a hand touch was so much faster when cheese was involved rather than general kibble! Never a surprise that the squeak of Heston’s rugby ball will bring him back from a highly distracting environment. The best reinforcer on Heston’s recall? Disgusting… you’re going to hate me for making the most of this… my cocker spaniel’s pee. When Tilly pees, Heston comes back to have a sniff. But as a reinforcer for recall, it’s more reliable than his squeaky ball.
You’re going to need a good word – most people use ‘Come’, but you can also put your dog’s name in there. That is pretty useful if you want your dogs to be able to come when called and differentiate between ‘Doggies come!’ or ‘Tilly come!’ Vital in a multi-dog household! When you’ve got an ‘Amigo Stay – Tilly Stay – Heston Come’, you can easily split up your dogs without fuss. You won’t believe how useful a bilingual ‘come’ can be. ‘Viens!’ only works on my French fosters, not on my own English-speaking dogs. A gesture works with my deaf dog.
So… ten games. These are a mix from various recallers programmes, or programmes designed to get your dog’s focus on you.
‘Come’ to a whistle or other sound. Use the ladder and start at the bottom, pairing the sound with a top notch reward. One squeak of Heston’s toy and he’s there! Once they’ve mastered one sound, add another. You can’t beat having ten ways to get a dog to come back. ‘Does Tilly want a treat?’ works marvellously when Tilly looks like she might toddle off to find some lovely ripe cow pat to nosh on. Better than ‘Tilly, come!’. Likewise ‘Does Heston want a treat?’ is not as powerful as the whistle (which means tug) or a squeak of his toy.
‘Drop!’ – you’ve already got this one from last week. Use the ladder and work up.
‘Surprise!’ – treats rain from the skies all around you. Both 2 and 3 are really just variations on number 1.
Jackpot recall – once in a while, give them an amazing, amazing payoff. Once I’ve phased out the rugby ball, I may just have it there once! For food-oriented dogs, paté, stinky cheese, a raw bone… For scent-oriented dogs, how about a sniff from a pot of stinky weasel poo? You laugh now, but I have a jar with a weasel poo in it.
The Up-Down game. Drop a treat on the floor. When the dog looks up at you for the next, say ‘yes!’ or click and then drop the treat on the floor again.
The ping-pong game. Throw a treat away from you. When the dog orients back to you, say ‘yes!’ or click, then throw the treat away from you.
Touch target. Your dog should already be good at hand targeting if you’ve been doing this since Week 1. Games 1-7 can all be used with the ladder.
Chase me! In a safe, enclosed environment, shout ‘Chase me!’ and run away! Play tig/chase with your dog and reward them ‘catching’ you with a game or another reward. Heston’s favourite reward for this is a bit of wrestling.
Reward with a trick. If your dog already has another trick they like to perform, use it. Lidy loves to jump off my chest. I don’t let her do this very often as it is terrifying to have a mali-raptor up close and personal with your face, but when I say ‘hup!’ and pat my chest, she’s on it! Heston loves ‘bow!’ and will come running to perform it. It’s usually followed by the trick, ‘show me your wiener!’ and a tickle festival.
Thigh pat recall. Pat your thigh, give a reward. Practice where your dog can see you and reward with something they like. I have paired thigh pat with a petting session.
When you have a range of gestures, words and sounds that mean ‘come here!’ and are paired very clearly with certain rewards, you can think about what the needs of your dog are at that time and use it accordingly. Amigo never fails to come for a thigh pat and it works well because he’s deaf. He loves petting sessions, no matter where we are. If Heston is in a silly mood, bowing, tickling and showing his wiener work. Squeaky noise trumps everything. Chase me! is great if he’s wanting to chase something. If I spot a hare he’s not seen yet, me shouting ‘Chase me!’ in the opposite direction gets him away from the blessed hare and gives him a behaviour I know he really likes.
One final word: don’t expect food to work all the time here. Not even liver paté. If you don’t have a range of amazing paired cues and a range of really valuable rewards, don’t expect to find your liver paté to trump a hare chase.
Unless you have a Tilly.
Then food trumps everything apart from rolling in fecal matter.
Recall is so very essential, and it’s the one thing we poison by following it up by ‘removal from fun’. If you want your dog to come back to you, having fifty ways to get it will help you.
And remember: sometimes it is just too hard. In those cases, don’t keep shouting! If it’s important that your dog comes when you call and you think they might not, put a lead on them!
Even the best recall and a dog who is usually your shadow can be thwarted by simple environmental factors like rain!
Aim to have a couple of calls, a couple of noises, a couple of toys, a couple of behaviours, a gesture and a couple of environmental factors up your sleeve, adding a new one in there every couple of weeks. You won’t weaken the behaviour by having a range of cues for it, I promise! Over time, you’ll come to see that in some circumstances, some recalls work better than others, and that you’ll have one or two that will be rock-solid despite everything.
But don’t expect 100% recall everywhere. Sometimes it’s just too hard. “Does Tilly want a treat?” will get Tilly out of the cow-pat she’s rolling in. If I’m not 100% sure it will, she’ll be on lead.
Why do you start preparing ‘Drop!’ before you’ve maybe even taught ‘take it!’ or ‘get it!’ ??
Seems strange, right?
To be honest, I’ve massively changed how I teach this cue in the last year. I used to use more active sessions, when dogs actually had something in their mouth that I wanted. So I’d teach it by predicting when the dog was likely to drop, and then saying ‘drop!’ …
That was pretty hard. You have to know when the dog is likely to spit the thing out. Sometimes you accidentally end up playing ‘tug’ or forcing a drop by physically removing the thing.
Then I saw Chirag Patel’s video from Domesticated Manners demonstrating a method I’d never seen before.
I watched the first five minutes or so thinking ‘What are you up to, fella?’ That dog has nothing to drop!’ and then, when I saw the dog spit a hot dog out I had such a penny-dropping moment that I’m surprised I didn’t injure myself.
This is now the ONLY way I teach drop. I might swap to a toy eventually, but I always start with this method. Once you’ve seen it, you’ll never teach drop in more traditional ways at all.
You can call it ‘Give!’ or ‘Out!’, or whatever floats your boat. I realised that it sounded a bit like ‘stop!’ so I was getting some accidental behaviours instead of drop. I changed my ‘stop!’ cue to ‘stand’, which is very different. Worth bearing in mind!
It’s worth watching the video a few times for the explanations, which are incredibly valuable.
Why I love this so much is it’s more of a ‘get back to me now and you need an empty mouth!’ than a taught ‘drop!’
You can also change the cue later to differentiate between times when the dog has something in its mouth (Drop, or Out) and times you just want them to know there’s a food party at your feet (I use ‘Surprise!’ for that) but you may need a bit of time for the dog to learn the difference between ‘Drop!’ and ‘Surprise!’ if you want to have a different word for each situation.
You can see Nando Brown using it here, and also using a toy
Imagine how much easier this is when you’ve done the groundwork that Chirag Patel demonstrates?! There’s no need for mouthing or holding on. There’s none of the breath-holding moments when the dog holds on or decides that the trade isn’t good enough. I taught drop using traditional tug games, like Nando demonstrates, and that I’d seen other trainers use, but I’ve had much more reliable results from the Domesticated Manners version. You can make the toy boring, you can use a treat in front of the nose, but I promise you, it’s just not as great as the speed with which a dog will absolutely spit out a treasured toy when they’ve learned that Drop means they need an empty mouth.
Plus, the Domesticated Manners version has other benefits.
It really, really helps with recall. ‘Drop!’ is one of the only cues I rarely take off 100% reinforcement. That said, I won’t use it as often. I do it ten times a day in various situations until it’s flawless. Then I do it in harder and harder situations. On lead. Then off lead. And then I maybe only use it a handful of times, until I get to the point where I am only using it where I need it.
Keeping it with 100% reinforcement has drawbacks and benefits. The benefit is that there is ALWAYS something in it for the dog. It’s how I keep it as a ‘Boom! I’m back here! Here’s me!’ from the dog. It’s how I get my dogs to have an immediate and wonderful reflexive recall to feet. It’s a wonderful way to distract your dog too in an emergency, and you can use it with ‘What’s That?’ or emergency scatter feeding (where you toss a bunch of treats on the floor to avoid accidents). So ‘drop!’ is coincidentally ’empty your mouth’, but for all intents and purposes, for the dog, it’s a ‘get back to my feet because there is amazing stuff there’. That’s when there’s a difference between ‘Surprise!’ and ‘Drop!’
For instance, with Harry, a dog-reactive pointer at the shelter, an emergency ‘Drop!’ is a great way to avoid the stress of another dog coming in the opposite direction. Now you know me – I’m about teaching, not management – but there are times when you know your dog is going to go nuts if it sees what you see, and it gets that nose right down on the ground.
I also like this method of ‘Drop’ because it mimics a displacement activity – sniffing the ground. It’s non-aggressive and non-threatening. Now, it only seems as if your bonkers barker is a lover not a fighter, but it truly works. I’ve managed to avoid full-on confrontations between two dog-aggressive or reactive dogs simply by having one of them at my feet hunting for food. When you’ve got an amazing ‘Drop!’, you can use it to stop your dog charging ahead or you can use it along with ‘Leave it!’. It’s amazing to have a reflexive response (which you want this to be) when you have a problem situation. For instance, once I was handling a really dog-aggressive dog and another one was coming the opposite direction. A quick game made it look like my dog was avoiding conflict and the other dog-aggressive dog passed with a ‘watch’ from his handler…. but he wasn’t fussed because it seemed like the other dog was minding his own business. When you’re faced with a face-off over a 200m stare-down, a solid behaviour is vital. Drop is as good as any for that.
It’s also a brilliant thing to teach to dogs who have potential resource-guarding habits, who guard their food or toys. For this, having your hand near the food really helps. Not something to do with a hardened resource guarder unless you have done a bit of work behind the scenes, but it’s still a vital skill. It’s the very first thing I teach a dog who’s grumbling about giving things up.
You can see this with John McGuigan:
Very useful for dogs who enjoy running off with your stuff and evading you. A must for terrier owners!
So Lidy in the picture had a ‘Drop!’ and then a ‘Wait!’ and then a ‘Get it!’ with that pig’s ear. Sometimes we have a ‘Drop!’ and then a ‘Leave it!’
How great is it when your dog will spit out their toys so quickly and race back to you in expectation of unexpected gifts from above?
If they’re struggling, start with something really, really high value. Stinky cheese or salmon usually brings them right back. I’m a fan of stinky stuff – it’s so much more appetising than chicken or turkey, which doesn’t have the same smell. That’s not to say they’re not as fantastic for your dog, but I know smell in food is one way to get a dog interested in it if they aren’t usually. You can also use toys, but it’s less practical because at the beginning, you want to use a large number of small treats. All I want is the habit to come back and use their mouth to pick up food from your feet.
To make it more challenging, change location and practise in a number of places.
Then change the distance and say ‘Drop!’ from further and further distances.
Add distractions! Can you get your dog to drop a hot dog or a pig’s ear and come back to you? Start small and work up.
From time to time, I add a real jackpot reinforcer. Nothing like something disgusting but amazing like sliced liver to make that behaviour really, really quick. And as I said, I switch to ‘Surprise!’ for ‘Party at my feet!’ with 100% reinforcement, but rarely used. I keep ‘Drop!’ for ‘give me that thing in your mouth!’
Those methods make ‘Drop!’ or ‘Out!’ a really bomb-proof skill for dogs who are really amped up. With ‘Wait!’ or ‘Leave it!’, you’ve got a combination of cues that mean you are really maximising your dog’s impulse control.
Last time, I looked at how a hand touch can be a really good foundation skill, but there are two other skills that can also really help you with dog manners: ‘Wait!’ and ‘Leave it!’
Just to clarify, I treat both of these slightly differently. ‘Wait!’ means you can have what you’re trying to get but you need to hold on a little, and ‘Leave it!’ means you aren’t going to have what you want – I don’t want you to touch it at all.
I teach dogs both behaviours, but I use them differently. ‘Wait!’ means ‘Don’t mug me, don’t get in my pockets, don’t pester me for a treat or a game… chill your beans a minute!’ and I use it to mean that you may get the game, treat, door open, bed, food bowl or whatever and is more about manners. Sometimes I’ll pair it with a ‘stand’ or a ‘sit’ or even a ‘down’. I’ll usually reward ‘Wait!’ with what the dog wants – whether that’s food, movement or a door open. It’s different from ‘stay’ or ‘stand’, but it implies a bit of being still. ‘Stay’ means I’m going away and I’ll come back, but I want you not to move. I think it’s important for a dog to know the distinction. ‘Wait!’ is more of a ‘I’m right here, but I need you to give me a second.’ It’s a canine pause button.
It also teaches them that if they stop, good things come to them!
For ‘Leave it!’, I don’t reward with the thing. It means you don’t touch that thing, you don’t approach that thing and you don’t get the thing.
Why do I teach them?
Because they are really good basics for impulse control and manners. A great ‘Leave it!’ means you can drop something on the floor and know that your dog won’t eat it. If you drop a pill on the floor and you have a cocker spaniel, you’re going to want a bit of impulse control. If you have a dog who eats other animals’ turds, a ‘Leave it!’ is a must as well. ‘Leave it!’ is great with food objects, but also with toys or even with other animals. I’m not sure it’s strong enough to override the starey-eyed predation behaviours of an animal who is fixated on a smaller one, but if you’ve taught it long enough and hard enough, coupled with very low level chase behaviours, you’re going to find ‘Leave it!’ may work for that as well. If you’ve got a relentless sniffer, it works there too. It’s an interruptor, like ‘touch’ that means you can ask your dog to disengage from play or from approaching people who don’t want to be approached.
Knowing ‘Wait!’ can help you build up duration on a chin touch or sit, as well as other behaviours that require a dog to hold a position. It’s also good to prevent bolting out of doors, getting in cars, patience around food bowls and so on. Knowing ‘Sit’ or ‘Down’ cues can also help, because many of the moves require a dog to move forwards, which is hard when you’re in one position.
You can also follow it with a release cue, like ‘free’, or ‘go’ or ‘take it’. I use ‘Go!’ or ‘Take it!’ depending on whether it’s an action/movement, like going through a door, or if it’s something the dog will have in its mouth.
‘Leave it!’ is obviously harder because it involves the dog understanding that I’m never, ever going to get that thing that I wanted to have. It’s not a pause, it’s a stop. ‘Leave it!’ is also different from ‘Drop’ or ‘Out’, since the dog will already have something in its mouth for that.
I teach both because if I only teach ‘Wait!’ it means my dog will be expecting the thing I am asking them not to engage with, and that can be frustrating if they are expecting to receive it which devalues the ‘wait!’ cue; if I only teach ‘Leave it!’, really I’m expecting them to disengage completely – which gives them free licence to go off and do other stuff. Why would you stay interested in something you know you aren’t going to get? I want to use that interest and focus for ‘Wait!’
Step 1 is to teach ‘no mugging’.
And you can see Emily from Kikopup doing this in the video above.
You can do this with a grabby adult dog – leather gloves and big, low value treats are ideal. Some dogs are just not used to being hand-fed. Teaching this also helps dogs get used to hand-feeding, which can be useful for a variety of behaviour modification plans.
You can also see Chirag Patel demonstrate Food Manners with a puppy. Part of this includes the notion of ‘wait’ as well as focusing on the handler or partnering it with a hand touch.
You can also see how he uses it to help dogs understand that attention-getting behaviours like barking, scratching, mugging or biting don’t work. It’s all about patience! This is important. I do hate seeing trainers accept these behaviours or just ignoring them. A dog should very quickly learn that they don’t need to engage in these behaviours to get you to work with them.
In this video, Nando Brown explains how to teach ‘Leave it!’ and why you should get the behaviour first, before you add the cue word, ‘Leave it’
And although he points out that you don’t have to shout, many of us do (oops!) when it’s something that it’s really important our dogs leave alone, so it’s worth pairing your ‘Leave it!’ with lots of different levels of tone and volume. You can desensitise your dog to your changing vocal pitch.
If your dog is finding it really hard to learn ‘Wait!’ and they continue mugging you, start when they are full (if you are using food) or when they are played out (if using toys) and use something really low value. If my dog mugs me for a squeaky ball, I’m going to dial it back a notch and use a rope which he doesn’t find as stimulating.
This is Hagrid. He came to the shelter with a big impulse control problem, a big mugging problem, a massive chip on his shoulder about other dogs, a hard mouth and a misunderstanding about hands being chewtoys.
He learned ‘Wait!’ with a pair of leather gloves, some huge, huge low-value treats and a very flat hand . It also helped him with dog aggression because we would play ‘Wait!’ with ‘Look at Me!’ when other dogs passed until it got to be a habit. Other dogs passing and him playing ‘Wait!’ meant he anticipated the approach of the other dogs. It also taught him some impulse control, some manners and some motor control over that clacky-bitey snap-snap mouth of his.
And this is Marty. He’s a teenage springer x brittany mix (there’s something you don’t want to do by accident!) and as you might imagine, he is a livewire. Impulse control is a must. Plus, he doesn’t have a particularly gentle mouth. His thing is toys. So we are learning ‘Wait!’ with toys. We started at the end of a thirty-minute play session and we started with a millisecond before stretching it up. He can wait now for about two seconds. For a springer x brittany, that’s like five hours, I promise. He also has four feet on the floor. That’s also a very big achievement.
Make it easier by: choosing a moment when your dog is less aroused, starting with lower value objects and shorter durations. If your dog is finding it really, really hard, you may also want to teach ‘four feet’ first.
Once your dog has mastered the basics, make it harder by:
Increasing duration: asking for longer and longer waits. Obviously, that doesn’t work with ‘Leave it!’
Increasing difficulty: asking for wait or leave it with a more highly valued treat or reward, or in more difficult situations. I didn’t start out asking Hagrid to ‘Wait’ when another big, posturing snappy male was going past! Likewise with ‘Leave it!’ I didn’t start with Tilly’s most prized wild boar full-body roll, I started with a very, very low value treat. To be fair, if it’s vital that she leaves it, I usually say ‘Does Tilly want a treat?’ which has been known to bring her back in an alley of rollable, treasured fecal matter. It’s hard to say ‘Does Tilly want a treat?’ with the same accidental growl as ‘Leave it!’ might.
If you are going to do agility, obedience, gundog training or other types of dog competition stuff, a good ‘Wait!’ is vital too.
Most people never want or need to get past ‘sit/down/stay’, but if you’ve got a smart dog, a teenage dog or a dog who you just want to stretch a little further, I’ve been posting some behaviours you might want to teach on Facebook. Time to do the sensible thing and post them somewhere more permanent!
This week, it’s the hand touch.
Why is hand touch the thing I teach straight after ‘sit’ and ‘down’?
In fact, why might you even use it to teach sit or down?
What are the drawbacks and what other things might it interfere with?
When a dog can come and touch your hand with their nose, you’ve got an instant way to get a recall. It’s also really great because then you can use it to shape other moves, like twist, spin, through the legs, weaves, stand in between your legs, jumps, walking to heel … you name it, if you can move the dog’s nose, the rest of the body will follow. If you have a hand touch, you can even shape a down or a sit more easily.
So it’s great for trick training, agility and obedience.
But it’s also great for husbandry as well. It can start off your dog on a great pathway to standing still for nail clipping, grooming, injections, thermometers – although be mindful with these because if you’ve got a dog with a history, your hand in front of them might be the best thing to bite for redirection or for pain. This is why I prefer a chin touch for those, or a hand touch in a muzzle.
It also gets a dog conscious about touching you with various bits of their body. Dogs don’t generalise well, but once they’ve mastered this, you’ll find it easier to get them moving onto chin touches, foot touches, hip touches and chest touches. If you have a dog who will happily touch your legs with their hind quarters, will press into a hand against their chest and place their chin on another hand, you’ve got a dog who is more secure for vet care or grooming without being restrained. I saw a video of a tiger doing this on Facebook for a voluntary blood draw from its tail. It kind of puts us to shame when a tiger will let you shave its tail and take blood. Yes, there were bars between, but the tiger could have moved away easily. And there we are in the vets restraining our animals or wrestling with them like they’re alligators! A hand touch is a gateway ‘trick’.
Touch is also a great one for dogs who are reactive, for dogs who are chasers, for dogs who are overstimulated. If you have a dog who can touch your hand in all kinds of circumstances, they’re looking at your hand, not at whatever it is that is freaking them out. It is one of the first things I teach dogs who aren’t coping in the world. It can be great to build up to for ‘stranger danger’ dogs, for dogs who have a fear of hands, for dogs who don’t like to approach people. It’s a versatile behaviour for so many, many things in a dog’s life. If you have a dog who is jumping, who needs distracting from chewing, or who is doing something else undesirable, it’s a great interruptor that means you can control where the dog’s head (and therefore the rest of its body) is.
It’s also good for wriggly dogs to get them harnessed up, or to train them to wear a muzzle.
Words of caution:
Put it on cue. You don’t want your dog bopping your hand all the time with its nose. You are not a treat machine that is operated by your dog’s nose. Make sure your dog is clear about the word ‘touch’ (or whatever word you are using!) When you hear the macho Alpha trainers whining about ‘touch’ as a behaviour, it’s because they think that behaviour is just spilling out of a dog all the time. It won’t if the dog understands there is a sequence. Present hand – say touch – dog touches – mark the behaviour – give reward. Always in that sequence.
Be mindful that a dog who already knows ‘paw’ can find this hard and will keep giving you their paw. You can work around this by teaching this first or also by putting your hand up higher.
Make sure you have a distinctive and unusual hand ‘shape’ like a gun or presenting two fingers, or asking for a flat palm. This will also help your dog distinguish between other cues later on which also use a hand.
Some videos for you…
Emily from Kikopup.
If you’re having trouble getting the first movement towards the hand, put something smelly like fish paste on your hand – just enough to smell, not to lick.
Make sure you’ve got contact and that you mark the behaviour at that precise moment. To mark, you can have a clicker, but you can also have a word like ‘yes’.
Make sure also that you practise this in the home, in the street, in the car, on a walk, in the vet’s… everywhere you go with your dog!
In the next video, you can see Nando Brown doing the same. I like his tip about starting with the side of the face, and using ‘Yes’ – only because I’m more of a verbal girl than a clicker girl – simply because most of where I teach is In Real Life, and often that’s out on the street. If you have a lead in your hand, you don’t always have a clicker.
He also starts talking you up to taking pressure. I do love a good firm nose bop.
When you have a good hard nose touch, you can build up the duration of the hand touch as well.
Then you can put in distractions. You can see Nando using it for getting dogs onto scales or handling in the vets.
You can also use then a target stick or a spoon, which can be useful for all kinds of trick training and also for things like dogs who are afraid of strangers.
Donna Hill has some great tips in her video:
I love how she starts with a still dog and then gets the dog to move to her. I also like her explanation of how not to turn it into a ‘grab’ exercise!
Last video from Dog Charming:
If you’ve got an ‘Advanced’ dog, teach them a sustained hand target whilst you try and distract them with ham or a hot dog in your other hand.
Now you know the how tos and the pitfalls… get training your dog!