Know Your Pooch
Dogs learn by association of ideas, using their senses and instincts. Among senses their power of smell is most acute, followed by hearing and sight. They live in lairs and are deeply attached with the spot. In wilderness it is the smell of their pack members, which helps them identify the particular lair.
This was just to give you an idea of the principles which I make use in training my dogs. First let me share an experience that I had with my dachshund bitch, Minty. At six weeks, she was as tiny as a large rat and I carried her all the way from Lucknow to Jammu by train in a dog box. I had spread an old bedsheet, folded to fit the floor of the box which also acted as a cushion for her. At Jammu she continued to live in the same box kept in my bedroom. After about two weeks I took out the bedsheet for washing. To my surprise, Minty followed me and finally slept at a spot near the clothesline across the lawn, close to her bedsheet. I kept observing and found that she had already developed an attachment for the bedsheet. At the end of the day, while I was folding the bedsheet, it slipped from my fingers and the next moment Minty was already sitting on it and in fact she growled when I picked her up to remove the bedsheet. I realized that she will have to be trained for letting the bedsheet to be taken out for cleaning and replacing. Secondly, I was thinking how best to use this intense liking for training her!
At the age of four months, I began to teach her the commands of Come and Sit. She was picking up the commands well. But the day she crossed five month’s age, she developed the ‘bolt complex’ and ran away when called to Come. It was quite annoying. Dachshunds being rat hunters, swiftly enter the burrows. Minty would swiftly sneak under the sofa and would not budge. At that stage an idea struck me. In her absence I took out her bedsheet and kept it on my lap, with some treat ready for her hidden in my fist. When I called her, as usual she ignored me and remained ‘engaged’ in her imaginary rat hunting. I called her again. I do not know how she sniffed and the next instant she was in my lap. I rewarded her immediately. A few more repetitions with the bedsheet and she began to respond superfast. A prompt reward assured her that if she comes to me immediately, she gets rewarded.
With this background, I will share the hack. You just need a thick, single bedsheet or a large Turkish towel, which can be folded and kept on your dog’s mattress or whatever bedding you used for him. Once the dog starts using it, within a week or sometimes may be even less, he develops a fancy for the bedsheet/towel. This is because it carries his smell. He has the same fancy for his bed and or even the crate. But you cannot possibly carry it around a bedsheet/towel/large piece of cloth are better alternative.
Teaching your dog to come when called becomes really quite easy with this simple piece of cloth. Before starting the training, teach your dog/puppy to let you pick up the sheet. He will certainly try to hold on it. Gently make him release the grip by showing him a titbit and simultaneously command ‘drop’. In two-three attempts he will understand the command and let go the bedsheet happily. Once he has understood the command ‘drop’, take the sheet away, while he is not watching and call his name, followed by the command ‘come’. He will certainly come running. You can place the folded sheet at your feet on the ground. As he comes running, just point towards the sheet and let him settle. Reward him amply immediately. Repeat this four – five times at different locations. Once he learns to come, make him ‘Sit’ and ‘Stay’ on the sheet You will find it is easier said than done.
It is difficult for any trainer to teach the dog to go to a particular spot. With this sheet hack it becomes easy. Just make the dog Sit and Stay besides you, while the sheet is in your hand. Walk ten paces, place the sheet on the floor. This is best done inside a room. Come back to the dog. Raise your arm horizontally with forefinger pointing towards the sheet and as usual call his name, followed by the command ‘Go’. And lo, he will rush towards the sheet. Initially keep the distance travelled short. There will be glitches, as he would run out of patience and rush towards you, even before you place the sheet on the floor. But as he learns to Stay patiently you can go on increasing the distance. Also keep changing the directions of the spot, where he is supposed to go.
You can also teach your dog to ‘Bark’ on command and even ‘Guard’ on command with this simple hack. Sit inside a room with door bolted. Let the dog Sit and Stay on the sheet placed besides you on the floor. Let a helper knock at the door or ring a bell. Take care that immediately after ring the helper should scoot. The moment there is a knock or the bell rings, ask the dog to ‘Speak’ in a hushed tone. Repeat your command and keep exciting the dog. This training should not be tried with puppies less than six months age. The puppies of many breeds do not bark at strangers or in response to a call bell till then. Once the puppy barks, reward him instantly. After a gap of 15-20 minutes repeat the process. He will learn to ‘Speak’ on command very soon.
The attachment with his bedsheet is so much that it takes no time to teach him the ‘Guard’ it. But I discourage this to novice dog owners. Once trained to guard by you, he may resent even your own children coming near. It is better that he guards you and your property with his inherited guarding instinct. Training a dog is not difficult. Provided you have the time a patience to do so. Once the training bug bites you, you will certainly change your priorities and get involved in training. It is such a fascinating experience and the more you train, more you enjoy. In fact, it becomes a pleasure both for the tutor and the taught.