Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Training chat

January 31, 2014

While Tammy and FLD Copo's raisers were filling out paperwork, FLD Axel's team posed lots of questions to me. They had only had the energetic yellow fellow for a few weeks.

Two men, and a thrid one blocked mostly from view behind them, sit and squat with a small yellow lab puppy. The puppy is getting up from lying down on a green dog bed. He is wearing a blue bandana with a white triangle patch with the words Future Leater Dog and a black paw print. Hi is sniffing the air toward the men's hands. The men are wearing the blue prison uniforms with orange stripes on the arms and legs. The man on the left is holding the leash with his right hand. His elbows are on his knees (he is sitting on metal seat attached to a lunch talbe) and his left hand is near the puppy's head. He is holding a bit of kibble in his left hand. The man on the right is squatting with his elbows on his thighs. His hands are togehter in front of the puppy's face and he also has kibble in them.
FLD Axel's raisers demonstrate some skills-in-progress. Note the bits of kibble in their hands. And Axel's interest!

Much of what the team was doing with Axel is what we term "luring."

As defined on Karen Pryor's Clicker Training website: (, luring is "A hands-off method of guiding the dog through a behavior. For example, a food lure can be used to guide a dog from a sit into a down. This is a common method of getting more complex behaviors. Lures are usually food, but they may also be target sticks or anything else the dog will follow. Trainers must take care to fade the lure early."

Luring is okay when a puppy is first learning a new behavior, or when you need to manage a situation, like getting your puppy quickly from "A" to "B" past a lot of distractions and you don't have the time to actively train avoidance. But, as Pryor's definition states, luring should be phased out.

It was time to phase it out for Axel. "Don't keep the kibble in your hands," I advised. "Use a marker word like YES! to let Axel know he's doing a good thing." We had quite the discussion about how the marker word, given at the exact moment of the correct behavior, lets the puppy know it is doing the right thing. The marker also alerts the puppy that a reward is forthcoming - it is a bridge from the behavior to the reward.

"Show us what you mean," the men said.

I had noticed that both Axel and Bear pulled on leash. Not an uncommon issue for all puppies. Loose leash walking is a skill that we work on, always. Bear's team had figured out that placing their hand over the pup's chest helped slow him down. Good problem solving, but there are other ways to help the pups overcome an opposition reflex that makes not pulling so difficult to learn.

I asked for Axel's leash, and a handful of kibble which I dropped out of sight into the right pocket of my jeans. "Axel," I said. The gorgeous pup looked up. "Yes!" I said. I then pulled a treat from my pocket and presented it to him in such a way that his head followed my right hand and his body swung around into heel position at my left side. 

I took two steps. Axel stepped with me. His leash was loose. I said, "Yes!" and brought another treat to his nose at my left leg. As I stepped forward again, Axel gathered up steam and the leash tightened. I stopped. Said nothing. Held the leash firmly with both hands at my waist.

When Axel figured out he wasn't going anywhere, he turned and looked back at me. "Yes!" I said and presented another bit of kibble. We took another step together. "Yes!" Kibble.

There wasn't much room to walk very far, but I hoped the guys had caught my gist.


  1. Axel's sister, Kayla, and I are working on loose leash walking. It was excellent until the snow started to melt and her nose started to engage more. Now it's back to being a challenge.

    1. Ah, spring! Always a challenge! I'm sure you'll help Kayla remember just what to do!

  2. This was the best training ever. You are great Patti.