Monday, May 7, 2018

It's Your Choice

When Tenacious Little Terrier, Wag 'n Woof Pets, and I were discussing themes for upcoming months of the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop, I was so excited for impulse control to show up on the list! Of all of the training we've done, impulse control is my very favorite to train and the most important skill my dogs have learned.

When I first got Rye, impulse control was the first thing we worked on. I knew that she couldn't meet Barley until she'd developed some impulse control--and since we had a two week quarantine for kennel cough when I brought her home, we had some time to practice.

For us, impulse control is all about making choices. We play many, many, many varieties of the "It's Your Choice" game. For this month's blog hop, I thought we'd take a look at a few of the ways that we work impulse control into our daily lives.

The very first thing Rye learned is that if she wants her leash on, she has to sit. When we first started training this, I'd ask for a sit. If she sat and didn't start to get up when I reached for her collar, I'd clip on her leash and we'd be ready to go. If she got up before I got her leash on, I'd stand back up and wait for her to sit. I didn't say anything; she had to make the choice to sit on her own. Once she did, she'd get verbal praise and the leash would go on. Eventually, I quit having to ask for a sit. I get the leashes and both dogs sit and wait for them to go on. We also repeat this at the end of our walks. The dogs have to sit until I get the leash off and release them. If I unclip them and they sit until they hear ok, they get to chase a treat that I toss for them.

This helps us start all of our walks with some degree of control. There are still some factors that cause Rye to lose her mind (like the darn squirrels that insist on sitting right outside the front door), but we at least start every walk with the dogs' brains engaged, which gives me a better chance of keeping them engaged after we get out the door. This also helps Rye at agility trials. She knows that she has to sit, let me take her leash off, and then wait to be released to go over the first obstacle. She also knows at the end that she needs to sit and let me put the leash back on.

After getting a leash on, our next round of "It's Your Choice" starts. Doors--house doors, car doors, crate doors, store doors--don't open unless butts are on the ground (or seat). We start this the same way. The first few times, I ask for a sit once. Then I start to open the door. If the butts come off the ground, the door shuts. Just like with the leash, I don't say anything. When they make the choice to sit, I open the door again. We keep repeating this until they stay sitting with the door all the way open and don't budge until I say "okay." Just like with the leash, we repeat this when we get home from a walk, too. I won't even start to open the door until the dogs are sitting and if they get up when I open it, the door closes again.

This is one of our most important uses of "It's Your Choice." This is what keeps the dogs from darting out the door when I am struggling to get a huge Chewy box with 40-lbs. of cat litter in the door. This is what keeps the dogs from darting into the parking lot after I unclip their harnesses in the car. This is what gives me a chance to make sure that another dog isn't coming out of the training facility door while we're trying to come in. In other words, teaching the dogs this little game keeps them safe.

Treat Art
I first learned the "It's Your Choice" game when Barley and I went for our first private lesson with our first trainer. We started playing this game with treats. First, I'd hold a treat in my hand about nose level in front of Barley's face. If she tried to get it, I closed my hand without saying anything. When she settled down, I'd open my hand again. If she didn't go for the treat, she got to have it. Then we progressed to putting a treat on the floor in front of her paw. If she went for it, I covered it with my hand. Then I'd uncover it and we'd try again. Eventually, we moved on to putting treats all the way up Barley's legs. 

We can play quick versions of this game between turns in agility class.

Rye spent a lot of time learning this game in the two weeks before she met Barley. Rye is weird about having her feet touched, so she won't let me balance treats on her legs. Instead, we've started making treat art and spelling out words.

Watching Fixer Upper means we build treat houses.

We used to do this every single day after Rye met Barley. At the end of the day, we'd use this game to calm down before bedtime. Now, I use it any time I need the girls to relax and focus. If I'm watching tv, I'll sit on the floor and we'll spell out words like sisters or good dogs. Sometimes we'll make pictures--hearts, flowers, smiley faces. I'll make one letter or put down a few treats in our picture and if the girls make eye contact with me instead of staring at the treats, I'll give them both a treat before moving on to the next letter or the rest of the picture. This version of "It's Your Choice" really works the dogs' brains and wears them out. It also gets them to focus on me--since they have to make the choice to look at me to get the treat, I become more valuable to them. Rye and I play this game at every agility trial when we're waiting between turns. Plus, it's a really cool party trick ;)

Other Uses
We really use this game all the time. We use it at dinner: they lay down and I'll put food in the bowl, look at me and they're released to eat. We use it for fetch: Rye lays down and I throw the toy. Even introducing Barley and Rye was one big "It's Your Choice" game: be calm and quiet while looking at your new sister and you get food; if you freak out, I'll sit and wait and hold onto the food until you stop. It's also been a part of how we're working on our cone troubles in agility. 

The secret to "It's Your Choice" is that you don't tell the dog what to do with the exception of a sit or a down at the beginning of the game. There's no "leave it" when I set a treat on the ground. There's no "nope" if they get up when I start to open the door. The game is all about the dog thinking. The dog learns to make the choices that get them what they want. Barley and Rye know that sitting gets their leash clipped on which gets them out for a walk. Rye knows that laying down gets me to throw her toy. They both know that looking at me instead of whatever treats are on the ground gets them a treat. The dogs love learning this way because it's all a game. 

Eventually, these behaviors just become engrained in the dogs. Occasionally, we'll have little refreshers--especially if there are squirrels in the yard when we get home from a walk because Rye hates having to sit at the door and go inside then; she'd much rather stay outside and watch the squirrels, which she knows will end when the door opens--but for the most part, they know this game immediately when we start these different behaviors. 

This month, our theme for the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop is Impulse Control, but we welcome any positive training posts! Be sure to check out our co-hosts, Tenacious Little Terrier and Wag 'n Woof Pets, and all of the other great blogs linking up with us to see all the different ways people train impulse control with their pets and join us next month when our theme is Transportation. The blog hop opens on the first Monday of each month and stays open all week.
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  1. It's your choice is so much better than demanding something from us. We use it in our sports training. Sure, you can sniff the people in nose work, but the clock is running. Mom gives us a second to sniff, says nice job, or good girl and then waits. We usually get right back to working. The dog making the choice is very meaningful. Great post idea.

    1. It's amazing how many different situations this game can be used in! Of course, sometimes I spend a long time standing and waiting when the girls are really intent on doing something else, but they always catch on eventually!

  2. I love how the way you do this really makes the dogs use their brains. This would work well with Luke, since sometimes words are meaningless to him. He responds much better to gestures, or just figuring out what it is I want by the circumstances. When he's standing and waiting for a treat, I don't usually tell him to sit, he just figures it out and does it on his own. It's not something I'd been consciously thinking about doing that way, but I'm going to try it more now!
    Jan, Wag 'n Woof Pets

    1. I bet Luke would love this! You're definitely already subconsciously doing it, so I'm sure he'll catch on quickly. We use it for snack time, too. If I'm eating chips or something and they want a bite, they have to be in a down before I give them anything. Usually, Barley catches on really quickly and gets a snack and then Rye has to figure out why Barley got something and she didn't before she gets something :)

  3. I guess I never really knew about this training tool! It sounds amazing.

    I have a struggle with Delilah and getting her to lay down and stay down on her mat while we eat dinner. She will lie down, but within a minute or two, she pops right back up. Then I am putting her down again, and again and it's a battle of wills!

    How would you use this game to train her to stay down?

    1. It is amazing! It takes a little patience at first and consistency, but once the dog figures out the game, it's great.

      That's a tough one! Barley and I had that struggle when we first started. It's tough for the dog because whatever you're eating is probably far more exciting than the reward of being right and staying in a down :) You might start just building value for being down for longer periods before you add in the expectations for meals. Barley kept wanting to pop up when we did this--our trainer really emphasized the importance of making sure that I didn't repeat down and that I didn't look at her when she got up because that's a huge reward for a dog. Basically, we started with telling her down once and giving her a treat as soon as she was down, then I'd stand straight up and immediately bend down and give her another treat, then I'd stand up for a few seconds before the next treat. Eventually, we'd add in extra distractions like movement, food, Soth running around. But if she got up, I couldn't repeat down or say anything else--I had to just wait her out and not look at her. Then as soon as she chose the down on her own, it was lots of treats and praise and partying. The first time we did it, it took a really long time for her to choose going back into a down, but she caught on really quickly and after that it didn't require as much patience. Sometimes she'll still pop up while I'm eating, but as long as I ignore her, she's back down pretty quickly (and then she gets a snack!).

    2. Thank you!! I think I can work on this. Last night I was putting her rug down for her Kong and she stood and then sat right where I wanted to put it. I turned my head to the spot where I wanted her to sit, and just waited. It took her a minute, but she did figure it out!! I can't thank you enough, we are constantly putting her back in a down, or telling her to lie down (except when my husband isn't home, when he's gone, she lays right down and waits) and it's very frustrating.

  4. Perhaps we will teach Gladys this game! :) Although sit is a bit elusive....she needs Aunt B's bootcamp!

    1. Aunt B can't wait to enroll that little Glad Dog in bootcamp ;)

  5. So many nice examples of It's Your Choice games.

    Your post reminds me that I need to find a training-savvy stranger to help me with giving Honey treats using It's Your Choice.

    I was pleased when a young man at the marina followed my guidance in offering her some food. But dismayed when he responded to her slight jump by putting his hand over her muzzle to correct her "dominant behavior." Ugh.

    1. Finding other people to help with training is always a struggle! Luckily, only a few select people get to give my dogs treats because I want them to always choose me, so in most situations I'm the only one doling out the food, so we don't have that particular struggle in finding training help!

  6. We play that game a lot too. That along with Premack has helped his recall training. Rewarding good choices is key! Mr. N's favorite is when he's allowed to go chase squirrels.