There's nothing better than hiking with your dog(s) and family, that is, unless you are worried that your dog will get distracted, chase after something, and disappear. This is especially true if you are able to hike in unleashed areas where there are no fenced-in boundaries to contain your canine explorer. The featured photo was taken in West Vail, Colorado on a hike high above I-70. Notice how Wigglebutt Duncan is checking back to make sure we are in sight in the photo above?
I first learned about the "Lose the Dog" game (my name) at For Your K9, now located in Melrose Park. I was an hour early for a Rally Obedience class, had time to spare, and was allowed to join one of their introductory obedience classes as a drop-in. At the end of the class, we moved into a small room, probably about 30' x 30', and were told to have treats in our hands. One by one we nonchalantly walked around the room, treats in hand, waiting for our dogs to 'notice' us. Because we were all in a new area, the dogs initially were more interested in the smells of the room than in their human trainers, just like Dunkie who is very interested in what is up in the trees in the photo below and could care less about looking at me.
- What's up there?
We were told to do nothing to elicit our dogs' attention. Within a minute, Dunkie walked up to me curious to see why I wasn't paying attention to him. This is considered a GOOD behavior that deserves to be rewarded. The type of "mark" you use to tell the dog it's done the correct thing and the reward you use is up to the individual trainer. I use the verbal marker "yes" rather than a clicker (advocated by many trainer devotees) because I seem to have 4 left hands when it comes to holding a leash, treats, and clicker, and typically end up dropping the treat and hoping that Dunkie will listen to my "leave it" command (always a challenge). After "marking" the correct behavior with a resounding "YES!", I quickly give him the treat according to the 2 second rule. (Simply put, a dog has more difficulty creating a link between a behavior and a reward if too much time elapses between the 2 events.)
We practiced this exercise multiple times. Let me interject that Dunkie is a totally food-driven Tibetan Terrier who will do almost anything for food (except allow me to easily clip his nails). At meal times, he behaves as if every meal is that last supper he will ever eat. So you can guess how quickly he glued himself to my side waiting for treat after treat after treat. Dunkie began to learn how rewarding it could be to watch me instead of other things he might have wanted to do.
Next, I decided to practice this new behavior with him in a smaller fenced unleashed dog park in west Glenview. Again, I had treats hidden in my pocket (not such a good idea in dog parks), and after the initial excitement of entry into the park and greetings with other dogs, I walked away from Dunkie, ignoring him. Within a minute or so, he came to me to see what I was doing, and I marked his behavior with a "yes" and then treated him. I did this intermittently and he was a very happy dog, eager to do almost anything I asked.
Finally, we went to a dog park near Wauconda (still fenced in but very large with varying terrain), and although he would run ahead of me, he constantly checked back to see where I was. Every time he looked back, I marked his behavior as correct with a verbal "yes." When he came back to me unrequested, I rewarded him intermittently with a food treat. (At some point in time, one needs to 'fade' the treats, otherwise you will end up with an obese dog.) He has thus learned that it is fun to check back with me and now keeps me in sight on all our off-lead walks. Just look at how he constantly checks back when he is ahead of us, as if to say "Come on! Let's get going."
- You coming? What direction are we going?
Once that behavior is learned, it's a shared responsibility for both dog and owner to keep an eye on its owner and the worry, while never gone, is lessened tremendously. And if you add the "come" command into the mix, you might get the response pictured below:
- I'm coming! I'm coming! Where's my treat?
In sum, Dunkie has learned to watch where we are at all times, and perform all sorts of other obedience requests made in places where there is great potential for many distractions .... unfortunately, still all for the love of treats. Now he is on a diet. Poor Dunkie. But he's a happy dog and I'm a happy owner.