Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Exercises to Keep Dogs off of Counters and Tables

We go over this almost every other week.  Usually with young dogs who just discovered the joys of the countertops.  We recently had a dog in class who had been exploring and successfully finding snacks on counters for over four years. The family had the dog wear a bell so that they had a better chance of stopping her.  Five weeks later?  The owner reported the dog was massively improved, people who didn't know the dog had more training were super impressed by the changes.

1) Prevention. The counters are kept cleared off. Obviously, anything the dog eats or plays with can be reinforcing. The feet up and exploration can also be reinforcing.   For the life of the dog you should have clean counter habits.  All it takes one mistake and your dog could eat something incredibly dangerous. It's not worth that risk.
2) Gates and crates: Dog is kept out of the room except for training scenarios until the training process is completed.
3) Dog on leash/crated during meals: Not giving your dog a chance to make those errors. Management is key.

1) Practice stays in that room:  One person preparing meals while the other is reinforcing the dog for down stays. Feeding as often as needed.  This can be done with one person... go open a cupboard, go back and reinforce. Pull out a cup...go back and reinforce. Put water in the cup. go back and reinforce. Most people push the dog too far. We want to reinforce very often, so we have a very strong reinforcement history.  A go to bed/mat can help clarify the staying aspect here.
2) Leave it: Automatic and on cue.  Step one of this is a treat in a closed fist...wait for dog to back up...then click and give a yummy treat. Repeat a lot until the dog is offering leaving things alone. There are a lot more steps to this...but it deserves it's own post.  We do NOT want to be verbally cueing leave it. Most of the counter scenarios...you don't need this with the counters, you want the dog leaving the cake by himself.
3) Squirrel Game: Again, a longer exercise, but essentially walking back and forth past a distraction at a distance where you know the dog can succeed. Feeding often. We want to be working hard enough that your dog is slightly challenged....so feed often, reinforce those behaviors.

If you mess up:
And see your dog jumping up...calmly leave the room or quietly and causally move to your dog.  You do NOT want to yell or move suddenly or physically stop your dog.  Dogs VERY quickly learn to ONLY take things if you are not present. This is ---incredibly--- dangerous because then you don't know what your dog has taken.   And it makes training very difficult.

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