I can remember having this problem with the first family dogs I engaged in training. Our two terriers were smart, clever little dogs who always seemed to be two steps ahead of me. Frustrating for a new dog trainer who was learning herself!
I knew that I wanted to use rewards in my training and wanted to be a kind and benevolent owner, but sometimes Lucy & Toby were so frustrating! Particularly so at the end of a walk if they didn't feel like we'd been out for long enough.
Looking back I can see that I made a lot of mistakes whilst training them, and that the fault lay with me and not them. I thought I had been using treats & toys as rewards, when in actual fact they were out and out lures!
When I called them to put them on the lead they would check out whether there was anything in it for them before deciding whether to come back or not - and were also very good at grabbing a treat that I offered them and then running away for more off-lead fun! :D
Fortunately their clever ways taught me many things about dog training, even if I wasn't always grateful for the lessons at the time! And the most important of these was one of the most simple - the importance of a dog who is comfortable and happy with having their collar grabbed when you need to get hold of them.
I am genuinely surprised at the number of dogs that I've seen recently that are keen to avoid having their collar taken by their owners at all costs. Sometimes even using their teeth as a warning to prevent it happening :(
You see the reason dogs can get wary of people grabbing their collars is simple. Unless people make a point of practicing it as a game with some sort of reward, then the only time their collar is likely to be taken is when they're being stopped from doing something they were enjoying.
Imagine if every time you were in the middle of an enjoyable activity such as reading a book, or settling down to watch a favourite TV program someone came along and took you by the hand to lead you away from it. Pretty quickly you'd start to avoid them if they approached you with their hand outstretched. Makes sense doesn't it?
If you're struggling you'll be glad to know that it's easy to remedy.
Make a point of having 10 or so really tasty rewards in your pocket at the beginning of the day. Throughout the day dispense these to your dog whilst doing the following:
- With both hands empty approach your dog
- Gently move your hand by the side of their head (NOT above and over their head) and take their collar
- Then reach into your pocket and give them a treat
- Let go of the collar and go about your day
Repeat these steps throughout the day at quiet times when your dog is minding their own business. Build up to doing it at times when they're more excited, perhaps when someone has arrived home from school or work, or when they're playing with a toy.
NB: If your dog shows aggression when you're doing this at quiet times, please consult the help of a qualified behaviourist.
Today I'm grateful for those two cheeky and mischievous terriers who gave some much of themselves to training time with me, despite my shortcomings. I am a more knowledgable and patient teacher as a result, even though I didn't realise what benefit I was gaining from it at the time! :D