One of the big issues we have with Gromit is an almost total inability to get him to come immediately back to us when he is let off the lead on walks. I say almost, because on some occasions, when there have been no distractions, such as other dogs, he does come back, however, lately this has become so rare it probably doesn’t count any more.
I should also just add that obviously we do get him back eventually, but this generally involves me having to walk some distance to extract him from a group of newly found playmates!
When we first knew we were getting Gromit we visited a couple of training establishments but weren’t very impressed with what we found. Most places seem to suggest that they deliver kind and caring, non aggressive, training methods, but this did not seem to be the case with those we visited, who demonstrated the use of ‘kneeing’ the dog down, squirting water in its face and the use of a choke chain.
I have no doubt these methods produce quick results, and I’m not going to add to the debate of what is right and wrong, that’s a hot topic many professional trainers can’t agree on. However, from our personal point of view, we wanted a dog that would follow us because it wanted to and not because we may inflict some punishment on it, so we we’re prepared for the long haul. (pardon the pun)
We were not, however, prepared to handle Gromit’s training entirely unsupported, so after a couple of months of sharing our lives’s with him we engaged a trainer called Sharon from the ‘Bark Busters‘ franchise.
We’ve met with Sharon on a few occasions during Gromit’s development and, between her and a couple of puppy training books, we’ve managed to get him to do the usual tricks such as sit, down, wait, and occasionally heel. We can easily remove any foodstuff from him with never a hint of aggression and we can leave food on the floor in front of him which he will not touch until told to do so. In fact he is a fairly well-behaved dog for a puppy… until we take him outside!
Attentiveness Training – The Theory
It had been several weeks since we last met with Sharon, as we’d had to reschedule a couple of appointments owing to holidays and other commitments, and during this time Gromit’s growing lack of recall had become a major issue which we urgently needed to get advice about.
We started by taking Gromit for a walk on a long lead through the park while Sharon chatted to Barb about our issues. After about 15 minutes walking, Sharon commented that during all that time Gromit had not looked at us once, indicating that he was operating almost entirely independent of us. Normally, when running in a pack, all the pack members will continuously look at the pack leader for direction and this enables the pack to operate as efficient unit. We were clearly not operating as an efficient unit.. far from it!
Sharon’s advice was that we would have to get Gromit to be ‘attentive’ to our directions before we could ever hope to embed an effective recall command and has recommended that we carry out an extensive program of attentiveness training which needs to be carried out everyday for 20 – 30 minutes for the next 3 weeks.
Attentiveness training, in our case, consists of finding a reasonable sized open area, preferably with other dogs in the vicinity as distractions, and, with Gromit on the end of a long lead, we begin walking off across the area, keeping an eye on Gromit’s position so we can spot when he comes alongside. As soon as he comes alongside we swiftly change the direction we are heading in, forcing him to eventually change direction too. We repeat this process for at least 20 minutes or until we get extremely dizzy! You are also not allowed to give verbal commands as this exercise is about getting your dog to watch you for visual clues rather than listen for commands.
The theory behind the training is based on the premise that because we have now become unpredictable in our movements Gromit will start to keep an eye on us to check what we are doing, i.e. ‘be attentive’. By continuing the training every day for 3 weeks we are hopefully going to reinforce the behaviour of him continually checking to ensure he is going in the same direction as us, ‘the pack’, and, therefore, also be ready to receive any command we may give him.
I will post a record of our progress over the next three weeks..