Training the Dog In Front Of You
It is easy to start thinking you know how to train dogs after you have owned and worked a number of dogs. There are many concepts such as marking and attention that are common. However, every dog is an individual. Training needs to be adjusted to fit the individual dog in front of you. I have definitely had times with my own dogs that made me question how well I know how to train. Things that worked amazing for some of my dogs did not work for other dogs.
One of my biggest lessons learned is if my dog is not getting what I'm trying to say, I need to say it in a different way. Just because something worked for all the dogs that came before, does not mean that particular dog is getting it. They are not trying to be dense or difficult. They just need it explained in a different way. Teddy, the pup in the picture, was amazing at directionals something normally super hard to teach. I knew he was smart. But something as basic as heeling, he was a nightmare to teach. With directionals, he figured out what was getting him the cookies and he kept offering that behavior even though it was way more then he should have been able to figure out.
I normally start teaching my pups to heel with a lure. It worked wonders with all my other pups. However, Teddy kept jumping and foraging ahead in the rush to grab the cookie. What ended up working best for him was many 1 step exercises something I did only sparingly with my other dogs. We would take one step forward and stop so he couldn't get so far ahead. We stopped using food altogether, switched to toys and after months of hard work we finally got to the point he could heel on leash. However, it was still not quite as good as I would have liked and his off leash heel was not looking good at all. At this point I was really puzzled. He knew the basics and normally learned fast, but for this item which was super easy for my other dogs, he just kept not getting it. I started thinking about who Teddy was and how he likes to figure things out. When I challenge him and set him up to think he usually steps up and figures things out.
I decided to take a chance and I tried taking him for an on leash walk in the park. I expected to get pulled a lot and was a bit worried. However, he stepped right up and after a few mistakes realized he could earn his treats by walking nicely. When we got back and did the next training in the backyard, he was understanding his positioning much better. The actual walk amazingly helped him more then all the lessons and heeling drills around the back yard. Most dogs need to get it right in a place of low distractions like the backyard first. I normally would never take a dog who was shaky on heeling for a longer walk. However, for Teddy it was just what he needed. He came back from that and seemingly grasped the concepts I had been fighting so hard to teach him for months in a matter of minutes.
Sometimes when we are having an issue training a dog on a particular thing we need to step back, think of who that dog is as an individual and try something different even if its not what we may have done with our other dogs. We have to train the dog in front of us right then, not all the other dogs we have trained in the past.