The Creeper

I have mentioned a couple times how calling a dog off sit or place may develop a creeper.  Let's take my dog Hazel as an example.

Before I knew about The Wildrose Way, I felt confident in what I was doing with my dog Hazel, but I didn't realize the bad habits I was developing.  Although Hazel won't be taking part in any hunting, I still incorporate many of the Wildrose laws in hopes of developing a rock solid family member.  One of Hazel's favorite games is hide-and-seek.  I will send her to her kennel (the first time or two she hesitates, then once she realizes the game we are playing, she runs there gladly) and go find a hiding spot.  When I was well hid, I would call out her name or squeak one of her toys I would have with me.  Sometimes she would find me right away and other times it would take her a while, but she would always find me.  We would do this 5 or 6 times and she absolutely loves this.

Is it bad to play games with my dog?  Absolutely not.  I don't exactly mind that she has a creeping habit either.  Every once in a while I will send Hazel to her place or to her kennel, just to test her obedience and keep her on her toes.  There are times I will make her stay for an extended period of time such as when friends are over or if she's been doing things she shouldn't be doing.  After a while, I forget I sent Hazel to her kennel, and before I know it, she is right up in my lap with a toy ready to play fetch.  I swear she has some type of special power or something, because she randomly appears when I never even saw her move!  There are times I will catch her though and she slowly creeps out of her kennel towards me.  First she'll take a step and lie back down.  Then she'll take a few more steps and lie down.  Each time she is doing this, she is testing me to see 1 - if I notice and 2 - if she'll get in trouble.  Although cute to see her creep around, this is something I absolutely do NOT want to see in Jack.  Remember:  never call your dog off sit, stay, or place; always go to where he is and bring him on heel.

10-12 Weeks

Jack is now 12 weeks old, about a week away from 3 months.  At this stage, we are working a lot on heel, sit, and staying at sit until told to move.  Jack is a lot more familiar with heel and I will now give collar corrections as he moves out of place.  While on heel, Jack is not allowed to sniff the ground; this is a distraction and the dog is not learning what he is supposed to.  As Jack's nose goes to the ground, I do a very small, gentle tug upwards on the lead to keep his nose off the ground.  Let me talk a bit about the lead.

The lead I use is a British slip lead.  Don't know what it is?  Google it.  The traditional collar and snap lead will not work, although Jack does wear a collar due to city ordinances.  A British slip lead is preferred (or a choke chain will do the same) because when it is placed correctly, it mimics the bite of the pack leader.  The way you place your lead depends on the side you want your dog to be when heeling.  Remember:  from the beginning choose one side and stick with it where your pup will be while on heel.  It's hard enough to walk around a marsh with decoys, your gun, and all that extra weight; you don't want a dog criss-crossing your path.  If you choose to have your dog on your left (I do), you will place the lead over the dog's head in the shape of a "P".  If you have your dog on your right, place the lead over the dog's head in the shape of a "q".  When placed correctly and the collar is pulled on, the collar tightens then loosens immediately, like the bite of the pack leader.  If placed incorrectly, the collar tightens and does not loosen.  You lose the desired effect.

While working on heel, I am teaching Jack to sit every time I stop.  As I stop, I pull up gently on the collar.  This causes a slight discomfort to the pup and he sits down.  As soon as he sits, I release the pressure.  He soon learns that when I stop, something uncomfortable is going to happen, so he sits right away.  Now at 12 weeks, Jack sits almost immediately when I stop, but it has been a struggle getting there.

As Jack has been better at sitting, I have begun to teach him that sit means stay until told otherwise.  To begin, while Jack is on sit I keep the lead in hand and I take one step in front of Jack, facing him.  The first few times, he will get up.  When he does this, again gently lift the lead until he sits back down.  Practice going back to him, back away from him, back to him, etc. until he has mastered it from here.  Next (probably a couple days later), practice taking a step to either side.  Before you know it (Jack picked up rather quick on this), your dog will stay sitting.

Two things to watch out for here.  One:  very rarely, if ever, call your dog to you off of sit.  Again this can develop a creeper (a post coming soon on this).  Two:  when returning to get your dog, don't walk straight to the dog, this will make him want to stand up to greet you.  Walk wide of the dog beginning a small circle, then hooking or circling back up to the appropriate side to call him off sit into heel.

Please feel free to comment and ask any questions or give any requests for what you'd like to know or see.  I hope to start doing videos soon and to post more pictures.

Own the Eyes

An important skill to establish early on is eye contact.  A finished dog should look to you for direction whether in heel, stopped by the whistle, or receiving casting commands.  Establishing eye contact can begin early on with simple daily routines.  Take feeding for example.  When getting ready to feed the dog (the dog should not have free access to food by the way as this could unknowingly reward unwanted behavior), hold the bowl up at your face.  Naturally the dog will look at the bowl and his eyes will stumble upon yours on occasion.  Be sure to capture the moment whenever his eyes meet yours; timing is everything!  When his eyes meet yours, praise and give the food.  All good things should come from your eyes:  food, treats, bumpers, balls, etc.  At an early age, hold all of these things close to your eyes before giving them to the dog.

A dog should always establish eye contact before a command is given.  When beginning heel work, Jack still wasn't quite convinced of his name yet.  From the sit position, I would make whatever noises I needed to (cooing and trilling my tongue usually worked best) to get Jack's attention.  The second his eyes met mine, the command was given and we were off.  He began to realize eye contact is a good thing.  Jack is now approaching 12 weeks old and his attention span is noticeably longer.  At first I would wait for the slightest glimpse of eye contact, but now I make him hold that eye contact for just a little bit longer before any commands are given.

Another thing I have just started to do this week is to make sure Jack looks up to me for direction.  While doing heel work and practicing sitting to my stop, I hold Jack on sit and do not say a word.  As soon as he looks up at me, I praise him and give him a treat.  I will do this two or three times, heel another 10 yards or so, sit him down and repeat the exercise.  Sometimes I have to sit there for about a full minute before Jack looks up at me, but he is not allowed to move off sit unless I command him, and he knows that command won't come without eye contact.

Eventually as these basic skills are mastered, you can begin by holding a treat or other reward at your eyes, then moving your arm directly outward.  The dog will most likely look at your hand, but the second he looks back at you, give the treat or reward.  Repeating this is another good exercise so the dog knows that watching you, not the treat, will get the desired reward.

Biting/Chew Toys

Jack does not bite me, my wife, or my 7 month old baby who can't seem to get enough of pulling Jack's face and ears.  The breeder we selected did a great job of introducing the puppies to young kids and to constantly be around their face and discourage biting.  Jack didn't have much of a problem when I got him, but he did bite on occasion.  Whenever Jack would bite, I would just grab the scruff of his neck softly, and gently shake his head and say in a deep, growling voice "No".  Jack learned very quickly that biting was not allowed in this pack.

Chew Toys
I often receive criticism for how I train Jack based on what I feel is an important principle, and what is found in Wildrose Law #4 - Don't condition in a problem that must be trained out later.  I have decided to not give Jack any chew toys.  Chew toys can develop hard mouth meaning once it comes time to retrieve a bumper or a bird, he may just see it as a chew toy and chew it to pieces.  Chew toys are also often used for games like tug of war and meaningless retrieves (fetch).  Retrieves should always have a purpose and beginning at a young age, the dog should learn to be steady before called to a retrieve.  Tug of war also promotes hard mouth; the dog must bite down harder to keep what he thinks is his.  Chasing may also be involved which would be an absolute disaster if your dog decided to play this game with a bird in mouth.

The Three D's of Steadiness

A denial is denying the dog a retrieve.  Denials should be introduced early to the puppy.  Jack started denials about a week after he started retrieves.  As a rule of thumb, either you or another dog should pick up 50% of all bumpers/balls/birds thrown.  I will often take Jack in the back yard and have him sit next to me with a lead.  I will have my other dog Hazel come and sit on my other side with no lead (she is a bit more experienced).  I will then toss out a bumper or tennis ball and give each dog about 2 or 3 retrieves.  I will also toss out an extra 5 or 6 which I go and retrieve myself while the dogs stay put.

Ever since Jack started retrieves, I required a calm pup before I released him.  At first I just waited for the first sign of calmness before I would just let him go, calling his name is a release indicator.  Gradually as he has gotten more steady, I have lengthened the time he has to wait in order to earn the retrieve.  I will often line up to his right and mark the bumper with my pointing hand.  I then call his name and release him for the retrieve.  Dogs should never go after a retrieve unless instructed to do so.

Diversions are a bit more difficult and I have not yet incorporated them fully while training with Jack.  I have introduced diversions to my dog Hazel and she seems to handle them well.  Diversions are bumpers/balls/birds thrown to distract the dog while an action is being performed.  For now, I place both Jack and Hazel in a sit position about 10 yards apart.  I then throw a tennis ball right between them.  They are expected to stay sitting and not go after the ball (this works most of the time).  With Hazel, as she is bringing back a tennis ball, I'll throw another tennis ball over her head, directly in front of her, to either side, or behind me.  She is supposed to stay focused on the current retrieve and bring the first ball to me before I release her for another retrieve.  Sometimes she gets released to another retrieve, other times I use the diversions as denials and go and get them myself.

8 - 10 Weeks

Between weeks 8 and 10, Jack has grown a lot and seems to have a lot more energy.  I have reduced his kennel time to about 10 hours during the day and I have begun the very basics of heel work, first retrieves, and place training.  Before I talk about these training methods, I wish to address an extremely important concept in dog training:  being the pack leader.

If you have ever watched The Dog Whisperer, you have heard Ceasar Milan stress over and over again how you need to establish yourself as the pack leader.  Of the 20 Wildrose Laws, 4 of them have to do with this relationship with the dog.

1.  Dogs are looking for a leader.
2.  If dogs can't find a leader, they will attempt to become one.
3.  A dog will not follow unstable leaders.
4.  First trust, then respect (never force).

Dogs are pack animals and they are looking for their pack leader.  It is your job as a trainer to become one. This established role begins from day one.  Pack leaders obey the four C's of leadership:  calm, controlled, confident, and consistent.  Pack leaders always go through a door first.  Pack leaders eat first.  Pack leaders do not lose their temper.  Pack leaders do not bother with games like wrestling, chase, or tug of war.  A dog is constantly learning and is watching out for these behaviors.  Establish yourself as the pack leader from day one.

One of the C's spoken of earlier seems to be a difficult one to grasp for many people:  consistent.  Are you willing to take 10 minutes if needed just to let a dog out of a kennel if he/she is misbehaving?  Jack knows that he does not come out of the kennel until I call him.  He also knows I don't call him until he is calm and holds eye contact with me.  I taught this same thing to my first puppy Hazel and it is one of the best things you can teach a dog.  Be consistent in your teachings.  If you have to keep putting your dog back in its kennel because it is coming out on its own terms instead of when you allow it, then do it every time.  Be consistent in everything.  Establish a schedule.  Establish yourself as the pack leader.

Place Training
In all reality, I began place training long before 8 weeks.  Place training is giving the dog a specified place where it can do basically whatever it wants (within reason).  The dog is not to leave this place until instructed to do so.  A dog is also never called off place across the room.  The trainer is to walk up to the dog and call the dog off by "heel" or "here".  Calling the dog off place from a distance develops a creeper, something we will talk about later.  A dogs place should be a distinct area marked by a raised bed, a pillow, or some other area easily distinguishable from the ground.  As you take the dog to it's place, get him on the pillow and say "place".  When you first start, be ready to react fast.  Anytime the dog moves off his place, pick him up, put him back on the place and say "place".  Force is not necessary at this point since the puppy (or adult dog if you are starting this a bit late) has no idea what the command is.  You can keep the dog on place as long as you'd like.  Sit next to the dog in a chair with a lead on so you can quickly correct any attempt to leave.  Jack at this stage does still attempt to leave on occasion (mostly to steal something on the ground he sees), but he is catching on.  As a matter of fact, whenever we come inside and I take off the lead, Jack runs over to his place and lays down, knowing he will get praised for doing so.

Heel Training
I have not really begun heel training, so there is no need to discuss it extensively here.  On our walks each morning, whenever Jack happens by chance to be walking in the correct spot for heel, I simply say "Jack, heel."  I am simply beginning to establish the word with the action.  Jack does well on lead now and knows I am in control when the lead is on.  He knows not to run too far ahead and also not to fall far behind.

First Retrieves
With a puppy as young as Jack, retrieves are not entirely necessary at this age.  I do still do just 2 to 3 retrieves per day in a closed, confined place.  I started with a rolled up pair of socks in our hallway with all the doors closed.  I would throw the socks and his interest would get him over there.  I then started praising him saying "Good boy Jack!"  He eventually picked up the socks.  When he did this, I began to back away, continuing praise.  Dogs have a natural instinct to chase, so once Jack saw me going away, he ran right to me.  Just like that, Jack had his first retrieve.  Over the course of the two weeks I eventually got him to a puppy bumper (canvas only, not rubber) and moved outside to a small confined area.  A couple important notes when retrieving:

  • Don't immediately take the bumper from the puppy.  Bring him in and praise him, letting him enjoy his retrieve for a couple seconds.
  • Develop a shared relationship with the bumper.  When the puppy comes back and after you've let him bask in his own greatness, slowly take the bumper away from him, then give it back, take it from him again, then give it back, etc.  Do this a few times to show the puppy that the two of you share whatever the pup finds.
In all of your training, make sure you are consistent and thorough in what you do.  Mike Stewart, developer of the Wildrose Way uses this as a rule of thumb:  however long you think it will take your dog to learn something, double that time, then double that time again.  You double the first time because this is actually how long it will take the dog to learn it, then you double the time again because you need to make sure it is ingrained in the pup's brain; it needs to become habit.  Remember Wildrose Law #5 - Make haste slowly.

6 - 8 Weeks

Jack's progress is coming along very well.  I have concentrated for the most part on three commands:  kennel, here, and hurry (go to the bathroom).  Working on these commands, I have implemented Wildrose Law #18 - Train, don't test.  This means I am not going to sit and yell kennel until he goes in there or tell him to come here until he finally comes to me.  At this point I am simply trying to associate words with behaviors he already does.  Anytime Jack is going to the bathroom, I say "Jack, hurry.  Good boy.  Hurry Jack.   Good boy."  I also wait until he is going into his kennel before I say "kennel" and wait until I am sure he is coming to me before I say "here".

The subject of a kennel seems to be a sore place for many people with whom I have spoken.  A lot of people don't want to keep their dog in a kennel for any amount of time because they think the dog hates it in there and gets lonely.  If that is the case, then you have failed as a trainer because naturally, dogs like and need to have a den.  Jack sees his kennel as a place he can call his own.  A kennel is also necessary for Jack because he cannot be trusted around the house and he is small enough to fit under our fence right now, so he has essentially no unsupervised time.  You'll see how much I have him in the kennel in my schedule below.

  • 5:30 AM - Wake up.  Give food and water.  Go for a walk on lead.  Spend a few minutes working on "here".  Stay outside until Jack goes to the bathroom a second time.
  • 6:30 AM - Off to work (at home luckily).  Jack is put in his kennel at this time.
  • 1:00 PM - I have let Jack out of his kennel maybe 3 or 4 times to go to the bathroom, then right back to the kennel.  At this time, I feed Jack again and give him more water.  We spend more time outside working on "here" for just a few minutes.  I let him explore a bit until he goes to the bathroom again.
  • 6:00 PM - Again I have let Jack out of his kennel a couple times just to go to the bathroom, but he always comes back to his kennel.  I give him food and water again and spend another hour or so with him outside.
  • 8:00 PM - Between 6 and 8 I have kept Jack on his place (I'll explain this concept next time), and then let him out to go to the bathroom again at 8, then back to the kennel.  Note that absolutely no food or water is allowed after 6:00 PM.
  • 10:00 PM - Let Jack out one more time before we retire to bed.
  • 3:00 AM - Wake up to let Jack out, then right back to the kennel.
As you can see, of 24 hours in a day, Jack is in his kennel for about 20 of them.  During the day he is in his kennel for 12 hours.  Jack is a young puppy, he sleeps a lot and really doesn't mind his kennel at all.  I keep it close by me so he can see me when he needs to and feel a part of the pack.  As he gets older I will reduce kennel time, but for now, this is no problem at all for him.