Breaking the ice!
Many of the dogs that come to me for training, have issues with their recall.
‘Recall is fine, until we see another dog or person’
‘Her recall is great unless we’re in a new place’
‘His recall is good unless he finds something to sniff’
Are all things I hear in my classes.
One thing I like to do before letting a dog loose, is break the ice!
I like to make sure that my dog is listening to me.
Not only that, but for dogs who had very little socialisation.
Or can be very nervous in new places.
Make sure he is not overwhelmed or over aroused by the environment.
So how can we make sure he is listening and ready of be let free?
Environments can be busy and complicated. Especially new environments.
And we often see dogs behaving well, and responding fantastically to commands when they’re in their normal environment.
This is called habituation. It means they are used to and comfortable in that environment.
But anywhere else, they might fail. Because the behaviour is not generalised.
And when training fails, and dogs dont do what we want or expect, the relationship between you and your dogs gets a little bit damaged.
So how do we break the ice?
Breaking the ice is all about asking your dog to perform a few behaviours before being let off lead.
If your dog can perform a trick in a busy environment, then they are more likely to listen to other cues.*
See when a dog is ignoring you, it means the environment is too overwhelming for them. It might be too exciting, or scary.
Breaking the ice with them includes one object which is always present in a new environment.
This object should be something your dog has a long history of reinforcement with (she gets lots of treats and good things happen when its around)
This could be a platform, mat, or something as simple as your legs!
Break the ice cues
First teach the cue at home. And make sure they know it perfectly, responding every time.
Cues can be:
- Jump into or through arms.
- Paws on something (your leg, or platform)
- Go to mat
If a dog is particularly nervous, using something like a platform for paws on can really help them feel more comfortable in a new place.
Just make sure you always have the object in the car, or your bag.
Take it on the road
Its not always about letting your dog off lead.
A dog might be scared or over excited in new places.
And this is a fantastic way to help a dog overcome that fear.
And test your dogs listening skills in the environment.
I’ve used this in car parks, in shops, at friends houses, and dog shows.
The aim is to always have one constant (your legs, platform, or mat) that is always present in a new place.
A bit like taking your own pillow when staying in a hotel.
Or taking your own towels on holiday.
It’s comforting and reassuring.
Remember that this takes time.
Just trying this once, won’t make much difference.
You might need to teach it right from the beginning in every new place.
But going to many new places to train will make the world of difference for a scardy dog.
*If your dog doesn’t know the recall cue very well, then they still might not come back, no matter how good your break the ice cues are.
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