Getting his nose off the ground

Discussion in 'Dog Training and Behaviour' started by Dimwit, Jan 11, 2012.


  1. Dimwit

    Dimwit PetForums VIP

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    I have been taking my 17 month old spaniel/terrier cross to obedience training for over a year now and in general he is doing well. However, I have always had problems keeping his attention and focus and it has recently got much worse. All he is interested in is sniffing the ground which means our heelwork has totally gone to pieces and his (already short) attention span has dwindled to non-existant! It doesn't matter what treats I have in my hand (liver, chicken, cheese, sausage - treats he usually loves and only ever gets in training classes). Even using other people's treats only works for a short time.

    Any suggestions on how I can work on this? If I can get his nose off the ground he can work really nicely but he is just being a total brat atm.

    My instructor wants me to bring a ball to our next class as he is tennis ball obsessed so I have been using this a bit this week and have got some really nice sit and down-stays but as soon as I try moving he either stays where he is or dances round me waiting for the ball to be thrown or his nose goes back to the ground...

    Any advice gratefully received!
     
  2. Dogless

    Dogless PetForums VIP

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    Is he maybe doing it as a sort of displacement activity as he is stressed, bored or doesn't quite understand what you are asking of him? I only say that as I have noticed that Kilo becomes utterly absorbed by the floor if he is feeling stressed or (I think) when he isn't sure what it is I am asking him to do.

    I am definitely not very knowledgeable though and may have read Kilo wrongly - but to me it is a displacement kind of behaviour.
     
  3. missnaomi

    missnaomi PetForums VIP

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    I am not knowledgeable either, but I am reading a book called Control Unleashed which mentions this as a sign of stress too.

    It's a good book too - I'd recommend it - I am reading it in the hope of being better at focusing my dog at agility and training classes (amongst other things).

    Naomi
     
  4. Dogless

    Dogless PetForums VIP

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    I have that book and do really like it; just not experienced enough to want to say that this is what is happening (if you understand where I am coming from!).
     
  5. Dimwit

    Dimwit PetForums VIP

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    I'm not sure it's stress though it could be. He does know what I am asking of him as he knows the heel command and can work very nicely (and does at home where there are not so many distractions). He has never been perfect at training but lately he has gotten worse and worse - I think he just gets bored and the field we use for training has interesting smells and the spaniel sniffing instinct takes over.
    He is a dog that tends to get slightly obsessive over things though - especially sniffing and also playing so I have to be careful not to throw a ball for too long, for instance, or he just gets silly.
     
  6. choclabwoody

    choclabwoody PetForums Member

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    Hi
    My Lab constantly sniffs the ground as there are many treats to be found by careless people dropping their litter and other items. The path I regularly walk on first thing and last thing at night is the main path to the shopping centre and high school. The dog has found on numerous occasions sweets and other food, probably stuff he shouldn't be eating. Probably the cause of his behavioural problems like over excitement, hyper and generally been naughty.

    :rolleyes::
     
  7. Twiggy

    Twiggy PetForums VIP

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    I hate to throw a spanner in the works but he obviously doesn't know the heel command well enough or that's what he would do when asked, regardless of distractions.
    I'm not being unkind, just truthful.
    He probably is bored which means the heelwork is not sufficiently motivated or proofed.
    If he likes tennis balls try this:
    Make a slit in an old tennis ball and insert a really tasty smelly treat. Call your dog to heel and when he's sitting besides you, say something like "what's this" and put the tennis ball just above his nose slit side down and when he raises his nose to sniff, squeeze the tit-bit out so that it drops into his mouth and at the same time click or use a clicker word "yes". You can then throw the tennis ball for him. Repeat and repeat until he's really keen to sit besides you in the heel position. Once you've achieved this try taking a few paces forward before you squeeze the tit-bit out and throw the ball.
    Then build the heelwork up slowly from there.
    HTH
     
    missnaomi likes this.
  8. ouesi

    ouesi PetForums Muck Magnet

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    I would second "Control Unleashed" and also read up on conditioned reinforcers. Basically getting the dog to want what YOU want him to want :D

    If you want him to work for food, you're going to have to make the food conditioned reinforcer so that the desire to gain the food outweighs the desire to see what that tempting smell is. If you've seen any protections sports, the bite sleeve is a great example of a conditioned reinforcer - the dog wants that sleeve more than anything.

    You say your guy is a bit obsessive? This actually makes conditioning a reward easier :) You could even make the sniffing a reward. Two good steps of attentive heel "yaaaaay!!!" you get to go sniff. Personally I think rewards that require interacting with the human are more effective, but just using an example of how you could turn the sniffing in to a tool to get what you want out of the dog.

    I would not work on any more heeling until you have a reliable attention, you're basically allowing the dog to practice heeling a way you do NOT want which will just make correct heeling harder for you in the long run.

    This is a video I put together for another spaniel owner to teach a default attention. It might be helpful to you too :)
    Eye contact and attention - YouTube
     
  9. Dimwit

    Dimwit PetForums VIP

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    No, you're absolutely right. I didn't phrase it very well but I meant that I don't think the sniffing is due to stress - more that I struggle to motivate him.

    I think the tennis ball is the key as this seems to motivate him more than anything. I have tried the food in the ball but he is so fixated on the ball that he will not eat any treats if he knows I have a ball. I am not overly fussed about him working for food - I don't care what his reward is as long as I can get him to focus enough to earn it!

    Will look into the 'Control unleashed' book and will speak to my instructor at the weekend as it may be best for us to drop down into a lower class for a while until this is sorted out.
     
  10. Dimwit

    Dimwit PetForums VIP

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    Thanks, this is really helpful. Will definitely do more work on the eye contact (which is great up to the point where we start moving).
     
  11. Twiggy

    Twiggy PetForums VIP

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    But if he's obsessed with the ball you're laughing!!

    Teach him to touch the ball in your left hand in the heelwork position and then click or say a clicker word "yes" and throw the ball. Once you can manage to do a left hand circle say keeping his attention fixed on the ball you can then gradually phase the ball out.

    This is very much how we teach youngsters for competition obedience and certainly how I taught my three year old as she is also tennis ball fixated.

    Once I'd got really strong motivated and attentive heelwork with the tennis ball in my hand, I then asked her to touch my left hand in the heel position but the tennis ball was in my right hand. As soon as she touched I would say "yes" and throw the tennis ball from my right hand.

    This is her at about 10 months old and she went on to win 3 novice classes in succession:

    [​IMG]
     
  12. Dimwit

    Dimwit PetForums VIP

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    Thanks for all your advice. I have been working with the ball for a few days as he used to get so wound up that he would just run around me waiting for me to throw the ball. Now he will sit, lie down or stand and wait. I'll definitely use the clicker in conjubction with the ball to train the heel as it does help him realise what he needs to do.
    He can learn really quickly (as I found when we started flyball) but it is obvious that the obedience stuff bores him so hopefully his motivation to play with the ball will be the key.
     
  13. missnaomi

    missnaomi PetForums VIP

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    I know this sounds a bit stupid, and a bit of a silly question...

    I have a tennis ball fixated dog that I need to train to walk to heel better. The problem is he's really really small...I think he'll just try and jump for the ball...or I could walk along like a lopsided monkey and bend over so that he can touch the ball with his feet on the ground....if I do this, do you think it'd still work? Or would he learn that the heelwork position involved me bending down? Or is there a better way to do this will small dogs?

    Naomi
     
  14. Twiggy

    Twiggy PetForums VIP

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    No its not a stupid question and you are on the right track. We've used the tennis ball with Shelties and JRTs.
    I know it means walking like a lopsided monkey to start with but gradually you would lift your hand with the tennis ball. If the dog then jumps up, raise your arm right out of the way and stop until his feet are back on the ground then either click or say "yes" and throw the ball. He will soon learn to maintain position.
    Here's a little PJRT bitch with a reasonably tall handler that have been very successful in obedience competitions:

    [​IMG]

    See how you get on and it will take some practice. If you get stuck there are other methods to try.

    HTH
     
  15. missnaomi

    missnaomi PetForums VIP

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    Thanks, that sounds brilliant, I'm going to start trying that method :)
    Naomi x
     
  16. ouesi

    ouesi PetForums Muck Magnet

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    Oh good, I'm glad that was useful to you :).
    As for losing him once you start walking, a few things come to mind.
    1) Proof that default attention better. If its a truly proofed behavior, you should not lose him once you both start moving. In fact movement should be a cue to him to watch you. "Control Unleashed" has a lot of great activities to help build and proof that attention.
    2) Baby steps - literally! ONE step of heel with attention, STOP and reward. Build up to two steps. It sounds like it would take forever this way, but it really doesn't. You're basically saying to the dog that the ONLY way we heel is this way, and once the dog is clear on that, you move ahead much faster.
    3) High, high, high rate of reinforcement. Heel is a pretty boring exercise if you think about it. You're not very interesting compared to everything else in the environment, so you're going to have to condition the position to be a really reinforcing position to the dog.
    4) Reinforce in position. My trainer actually puts a piece of duct tape on my side where I need to reinforce my dog. If you always reinforce in the same spot, the dog will learn to stay there.
    5) Learn to walk and chew gum at the same time :D. No, really! Many dogs don't know how to walk and take a reward at the same time. Use really soft treats that can be swallowed easily, and take some time to teach the dog to walk and take treats at the same time. Its just a function of practice. Once the dog can move feet and mouth together, it makes rewarding in position much easier and more effective.
     
  17. Dimwit

    Dimwit PetForums VIP

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    I have ordered a copy of Control Unleashed so hopefully that will help.
    I have been making some progress with the heel - I can now keep his attention fully when standing still even with distractions and have worked up to a few steps of heel (he was reluctant to follow me at first as he was just waiting for me to throw the ball so it has taken a bit of time for him to learn that he only gets to play if he follows me).
    Heel is quite boring for him, I can use treats (cheese of chicken which I can trickle feed him) but they only work for a limited time before he gets bored at which point food is not sufficiently motivating for him.

    I am also going to talk to my instructor at the weekend and suggest we drop down a class for the time being as my current class is quite heavily focussed on heelwork which is not doing us any favours at the moment...
     
  18. Dimwit

    Dimwit PetForums VIP

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    I just want to thank everyone who gave advice etc. I got a copy of Control Unleashed and it has made SUCH a difference. He is still not perfect but we are definitely making progress. I started by using the tennis ball but now he is so much more focussed that I can use food rewards so I can reward in position and when he has done a reasonable amount he gets to play with the ball as a "super-reward"
    We still have some way to go and will never set the world of obedience on fire but at least I now have a dog who listens to me (the majority of the time) and who is actually starting to enjoy his training :D
     
  19. Twiggy

    Twiggy PetForums VIP

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    Well that progress - well done you.
     
  20. smokeybear

    smokeybear PetForums VIP

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    If you have a small dog you can use a target stick which has a ball attached to the end of it........ ;)

    Alternatively a tube of squeezy cheese.......... :)
     
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