There are a few dog related thoughts floating around in my brain today. These thoughts were mostly sparked by talking to a friend via email about training her golden retriever Canyon for obedience trials and her issue with getting him to "heel." From volunteering with PAALS I have learned a few things and was introduced to the "target stick." The target stick is used to maneuver a dog around its handler without having to physically touch the dog. It can also be used for more advanced activities like herding, but my interest in it lies in its potential to teach a dog to "heel."
I did a bit of research into the target stick and realised that it could not only be used for the cue "touch," but it definitely could be used as a "heel" tool for on and off leash work. I think it's a method that would take a lot of time and patience, but I think it would probably be one of the most beneficial ways of training a dog. They learn to perform a behavior when it is asked of them, as opposed to doing it because they are forced by an "Easy Walk" harness, Newtricks or Gentle Leader.
Now don't get me wrong-these body and head harnesses definitely have their places. Glacier wears a Newtrix because he weighs 75 LBS and is very strong and can be a little stubborn. He is also sensitive to collar corrections, so the head harness gives me greater control over him.
Now with all of this in mind, I have begun to realise that dog training is something I am interested in and could actually be good at. A lot of the things that Kyo learned were because I experimented until I found what worked for him. consistency also was important obviously, but it all came kind of intuitively. Now that I've been more exposed to the training process of service dogs and have been doing some more research of my own, it is interesting to see that I was performing actual training techniques without even knowing it. Aria's puppy class also enlightened me to more professional terminology and hand signals that I didn't know because as a blind individual hand signals aren't always instinctive. I've thrown around the idea of training Aria further and putting her in obedience trials. The only problem with that is that she is so small it is difficult to know if she is doing what is asked of her. With Kyo, I put a loud bear bell on him and learned what the different jingling meant through trial and error. It gave me a better idea of when to treat and reward or when to correct.
If I said "sit" and the bell just tinkled instead of giving a louder "clang" I knew he was just standing there staring at me. If I said "watch me" and the bell didn't really make noise, I knew he was looking where he should. If it started making all sorts of noises, I knew he was distracted and needed to try the cue again. With Aria, she is so tiny that that huge bell would weigh her down.
My other thought is that, Mr. K and I got our little weaner dogs as family pets and I'm not sure I want to turn our little princess into a working dog. She's incredibly smart though and very pretty-she could make a good obedience champion if you ask me. I am a bit biased though. lol
Back to the target stick. I really think that the "touch" cue is a valuable cue that should be taught to guide dogs. It would enable the handler to move /his/her dog into a position without having to physically wrestle with them. In my case, if Glacier is sticking out into an aisle or something, I have to stand up to move him where I want because he is so big. If I could just do "touch" with him, he would move more easily into a better spot. No more yanking, dragging and tucking. It would probably more sightly as well and make the public a bit more comfortable. I've heard people make comments in food courts when I've had to stand up to shimmy Glacier out of an aisle. He's big, so I have to use a bit of muscle, so it probably looks like I'm dragging him aggressively. I've thought about starting to train Glacier "touch" on my own just to make his and my life easier. He's a pretty smart guy, so I think he'll get it. I'll let you know how it goes. Maybe I'll even teach Roscoe "touch" for Mr. K too. By the end I'll be the "touch" queen and all of you will have to send me your service dogs...wait, "touch" queen? That sounds horrible...moving on.
I have to plug a product and then I think I'm done ranting and raving about dogs for today.
The Kong Wobbler-if you don't have one, you should go get one. They are a bit pricey, but if you look, you can find deals. (I found one on Amazon for 8 dollars) and it was one of the best investments. Not all dogs get it and Balloo was terrified of it at first, but they catch on and Balloo loves it now that he knows it has food in it and it won't kill him. The Wobbler we have is meant for big dogs, but Balloo has claimed it as his own. I can put his breakfast in it and he will go crazy knocking the toy all over the kitchen to get it out. When I first saw them, I thought I'd have to be resetting the toy on its base so that the dog could keep playing with it, but you don't have to. It just springs back up into position. I guess "wobbler" is quite an appropriate name for it. I like it because Balloo eats so fast that his little belly blows up like a balloon. Weaner dogs are known for bloat, so sometimes giving him his meal in the Wobbler slows him down, gives him exercise and challenges his mind. Aria is much more active than he is and so I don't worry about her as much, but Balloo needs some motivation to be an active guy sometimes. I know he gets a good work out because the toy is bigger than him and he has to throw his entire body at it to knock it around in hopes that the treasured kibbles will fall out. I can't tell you how it works for big dogs because, as I mentioned above, Balloo has claimed it and won't let anyone else play with it. One of these days I am going to send him out to play and let everyone have a go.
Anyway, it's a great toy and I really think most dogs would enjoy it. We bought it for our guys for Christmas and it was definitely a great investment.