Now that Edna has a couple of weeks’ worth of puppy runaways behind her, I plan, next week, to teach her the complete, very important runaway/refind package: the recall to me and her “alert” signal, which is a bark — which I taught her to give on command, a few months ago.
The runaway/refind is the most critical part of the wilderness airscent search dog’s training. Pretty much any pet dog can find a human via scent. A certified SAR dog must, in any situation, under any duress, return and “tell” the handler it has just found a person. This often is challenging for several reasons: rough terrain can be tough to power through; also, when the dog is tired after several hours of searching, it can be difficult to remember a trained behavior sequence; and, often the dog must find its handler by scent, because the lost person they just found is out of sight of the handler, and on the downwind side – the “wrong” side.
After “telling” the handler with some sort of signal — a jump, a bark or a sit, for example — the dog must remember how to return to the lost person and lead the handler in, no matter how many times it takes to run back and forth between the two people.
We practice the runaway/refind sequence in every search training session to keep it strong, to assess any weaknesses, and also – because the dogs LOVE them, and it’s part of a great reward system.
— All photos by my son, Jackson, who has been hiding for search dogs for since he was a baby! He now is an official member of Ketchikan Volunteer Rescue Squad, and accompanied me, my SAR dog Levi and our team on Jackson’s first actual search this summer (2014)
She has been busy, these two months she has been a Landis household member. After three weeks living here, it was time for family vacation. She traveled with us to Blanchard, Washington which is near my family and at the border near northern Idaho.
We had a layover at SeaTac airport long enough that my daughter, Claire and I picked her up at the Alaska Air counter and took her out for a little break near the miserable “dog area” outside the terminal. We found some shade near a strip of shrubs above the area, and even better, an adorable 8-week old boxer puppy that was on its way to Anchorage with a friend of her new mom’s.
Edna was unimpressed with the puppy. I have found, since, that she will bare her teeth at puppies after the first 30 seconds or so of greeting, and even at some adult dogs she meets. That is something I am working on.
My latest idea, to remedy this unfriendliness, is to use one of her favorite noisy toys, like a squeaky or plastic bottle, to distract her from her ugly thoughts and channel her energy positively. That has worked with my older search dog, Levi, who also has feelings about new dogs that aren’t all happiness and butterflies. 🙂
We lived for two weeks in our vacation rental and Edna really was delighted with the resident ranch dogs, German shepherd Ivan and Boston terrier mix, Cruiser. She also really liked Luke, my brother’s young Doberman pinscher, which he just adopted last spring.
Most of our training has not been too fancy. My strongest priority has been to finish up potty training! That is my least favorite task with a new dog. Once she hit 16 weeks, it seemed like she began to be capable of more awareness and focus and began to go to the door when she needed to go out.
Nevertheless: there still are accidents when I am not vigilant enough. It’s just the way puppy raising goes. 🙂
She has gotten very good at a few obedience exercises though. She can bark on command, which is critical for our SAR training. She also has a good start on competition-obedience-style heeling, a quick, clean drop on command, walking backwards, staying in a given position for 15 seconds or so at a time, “shake” paw/hand, “come,” sit and stay for dinner and we are starting on the “stand stay.”
I am using clicker training for many tasks, but not all. The worst thing about using a clicker is that I often don’t have it with me when I need it!
We also are practicing loose-leash walking.
One of her more annoying traits is that she submissively pees when meeting new people. I have noticed that in the last week this is lessening, which is great. I’ve just ignored it, feeling pretty sure it would fade as she gained maturity and confidence. Even more annoying is that she loves to exuberantly greet our two cats while peeing and swishing her tail through the puddles. Oh, the joys of a puppy!
Since returning home, Edna has been meeting many new people, puppies, dogs and training a little bit every day. I have introduced her to many different types of toys, so I can decide which type will motivate her the most when we begin search problems.
We take at least a one-hour hike each day, and I am focused on getting to know her so I can be the best handler for her when we are ready to hit the woods for some real work!
An important thing to remember when raising a puppy, or training a new dog, is that they are learning every minute. It is up to you to control their experience, so pup learns what you want her to learn.
If you cannot control pup’s actions, (i.e. you are in the shower, or engrossed in a cooking project,) put pup in her crate for a rest, or to chew a stuffed Kong toy or other tough, safe treat.
Edna has been working hard on potty training. She actually has gone to the door a few times, especially for poop, as that’s easier for them to sense when they need to go. Critical points on potty training:
success will take hundreds of repetitions.
you will have success, then failures. A couple of evenings ago, Edna was in a super crazy mood and had one pee and two poop accidents only a few feet away from me! I just couldn’t keep up with her. This is where your sense of humor and patience comes in handy. Stay calm clean up and you’ll have another chance to reward pup outdoors very, very soon. 🙂
Make sure you have treats in your pocket all the time, to reward good behaviors such as sit, down, potty outside, come when called, off (four paws on the floor), and anything else you like.
Edna is getting very good at learning to sit and wait for her food. I leash her after I have all five bowls filled. When I set all the bowls down, the leash keeps her in her spot. When the bowls are down I ask her to sit. She (and the four other dogs) are not given the “ok” command to eat until Edna is in a good sit — don’t get in a hurry on this one! This means sitting with a LOOSE leash. This is a great exercise to teach self control.
Another critical exercise to work on with a puppy or any new dog is food safety. Do not take the bowl away while they are eating at this stage, it only makes them defensive and less safe with their food. I save leftover meat bits and while Edna is eating, I stroke her body, touch her paws and put the meat bits in her bowl. That way, the dog learns that a hand coming toward them always is positive and they never should worry, growl or bite. I also ask kids to do this, as dogs often do not think of kids as worth respecting.
We continue to work on “come” although she runs to me immediately and at top speed right now. All pups, as they grow older, will become more distracted by the outside world (like any teenager!) and can lose that 100% great come when called if you are not careful to continue strengthening it with high-value treats, and practicing in all types of places, with all types of distractions, and following through to make pup come when it decides to disobey and wander off. If the wandering off or running away happens, put a long, light leash on pup and try again, using the leash to guide the behavior.
I had a couple of episodes this week where Edna, coming out of our fenced yard with me after a potty to our deck-side door about two feet away, would get distracted by a cat or a bird or … nothing (she’s a puppy, after all!) and wander away instead of following me straight through the door. I have been solving that by using a treat (actually, just a piece of her kibble – mostly I use her kibble for treats right now, to keep her tummy happy.) The way I give the treat in this instance is to lure her through the door while saying “let’s go” to encourage a habit of moving fast to the door, all the way indoors. Then, I drop the treat on the floor inside.
I also brought her out to our garden, dragging a light leash just in case I needed to control her, and she had fun walking around in our raspberry thicket, stealing berries that had fallen and biting weeds.
I have been shaping some obedience trial behaviors, just in case I decide to compete with her later. A straight front sit, a fold-back drop down, a “get back” to heel position, eye contact and even a heel with head up (only one step at a time for now) are mostly what we play with for now.
The only Search and Rescue type things she’s done is explore creeks, ponds, muskegs (where she fell in many watery mud holes!) – obedience and socializing so she’s comfortable with all people, noises, floor surfaces etc. I also introduced her to carefully chosen new dogs.
She also had her first skiff rides this week, when we took her for a two-day camping trip to a nearby remote beach. She slept in her crate in the tent very quietly, and explored with great happiness. She loved the seaweed.
These are the activities I have worked on in my first 24 hours with Edna:
housebreaking. I have either my eyes on her, or she is locked in her crate. She gets a treat and hears the command “potty” when she goes outside. This is time consuming – when awake and playing, a pup has to relieve itself every 10 – 15 minutes!
clicker training. I am “charging” the clicker with her. All this means is that a primary reinforcer (food) is given at the same time a secondary reinforcer (could be anything — sea mammal trainers use a whistle, dog trainers like a little device that makes a distinct “click-clack” sound. This helps when training very precise behaviors later. I hope to not only teach her some fun tricks, but also to train her to alert on cadaver material, items people may have discarded while hiking, (and maybe my GPS when I lose it in the woods one day!) and also it helps when training a bark on command, which I plan to teach her so she can tell me when she has found a lost person.
socialization. Edna is very social and sweet, but meeting all kinds of people in all kinds of environments will boost that great temperament and preserve it. She went with me to the Ketchikan Daily News, where I used to work as a reporter (and am filling in now, part time,) and she was held by men, women and she trotted around and had her photo taken by reporter Nick Bowman.
She also visited the North Tongass Volunteer Fire Department where I was attending a drill. She ran around near the ambulance and fire trucks, learned about the strange noises of air brakes and loud engines and got cuddled by firefighters and EMTs and even the fire chief (who happens to also head up our Ketchikan Volunteer Rescue Squad, which Edna and I are members of as a SAR team.)
small, important lessons. She has taken two gentle, small hikes with me and our four other dogs. She has experienced woods, trails, wet, thick brush and lots of puddles already. She is very brave about the rain, puddles and cool temperatures. Teaching her to accept a collar and to give into leash pressure is another project. When it’s sunny, I tie the dogs up on our broad deck – they love to lie in the sun while I weed the garden and pick raspberries. Today was Edna’s first time, and it took her awhile to accept the limits of her tie out. She had a nice chew bone she finally gave into, and she accepted the fact that she would just have to wait patiently. She also is learning to follow me, to respond to her name (I just give her a bit of kibble while saying her name.) She also is learning that she must not use her teeth on people in play. We use a gentle correction of some sort – either a finger tap on the ribs or lifting her away via scruff, then we redirect her by wiggling a toy so she can bite that instead, and praising her.
“Come.” The most important lesson, possibly. Many times during the day I give her a treat while saying “Edna, come!” This works to train older dogs too – even ones who have learned bad habits. I turn a bit to the side, crouch down, don’t stare at her face, and hold the treat against my leg to encourage her to push in close.
Sit for a meal. This is pretty simple – using a leash to control her movement. All four older dogs know to sit for their food, so I use a leash to keep her from lunging into their bowls, and to guide her into a sit. Being a Border Collie, she very easily and naturally folds into both sit and down positions. This is where I am teaching her the release command “OK!” When she is in a stable sit, I say OK, all the dogs start eating, and I encourage her to stand up and dig in. The “OK” will be used a lot when releasing her from sit or down stay, or from a crate.
Kennel. Go into a crate on command and quietly stay there until released. She whines a bit about the kennel in the car, but it is mild and I am confident she will stop when she realizes it accomplishes nothing. She slept quietly from 11 p.m. until 6 p.m. this morning, so I was happy about that!
“Off.” When she tries to jump up on the couch, we gently guide her back down and say “off!” the minute her feet hit the floor, then give her praise and the attention she was seeking. This one is tough with soft-hearted visitors/kids and an adorable puppy!
“Leave it.” Good for biting houseplants, toes, poking cats and other puppy misadventures. We use the same routine as for putting her teeth on people.
“Wait.” Great for warning to not go through a door, or to run off when I’ve dropped a leash, or to keep a dog from jumping out of the car when you realize another car is coming, or you are having a hard time untangling five leashes. 🙂 I just block the dog with my hand or the leash when they first are learning, saying “wait” as I do it.
So many things to teach a young puppy! It is very fun, and rewarding, and if the foundation is set up correctly, the pup will be a delight as it grows, rather than a large, hyper, gangly menace.