- Stephanie Thomas
Training disks - behaviour correction
I have also taken a positive reinforcement training objective with my dogs however I came across certain occasions where this didn't work.
Azera was always very well behaved, extremely well socialised, very friendly with dogs and people however during her adolescent stage (between 8-12 months) she developed a loud meet and great while on walks. In other words, she barked and howled and hopped up on her back paws doing a mid air run whenever we came across a person or dog while on a lead walk. Off lead she had no such reaction.
I have always attended obedience classes at a local training school and turned to them for advice on this. We had a 1-1 session where I was taught how to use training disks as a tool to correct unwanted behaviour.
There didn't seem to be any rhyme or reason for Azera doing this, perhaps she was over excited to see people and dogs? But it was evident that it was a learned behaviour, chances are when she did it first I didn't correct it properly and then she simply continued to do it until it became routine for her.
Being a first time owner and not particularly aware of canine body language I didn't know what the trigger had been to cause this in the first instance. Nevertheless, I knew I didn't want it continue.
Some people allow their dogs to bark at others, some scold them for doing it, some pick them up and in a sense reward the behaviour which results in it continuing. Dogs barking greetings in this way can send out the wrong message both to humans and to other dogs! I witnessed people crossing the road to not pass Azera when she did this, she is a tiny dog but for anyone nervous of dogs it can scare them, with the changes made to the Dangerous Dogs Act, Azera being seen as a threat is not something I ever want to risk! With other dogs, maybe less socialised, or anxious nervous dogs it can cause a negative or aggressive reaction, again something I never wanted to happen.
I wanted to teach Azera it was impolite and to stop.
The disks worked, not only did they work but it took a grand total of 2 weeks to work and I've never had to use them since, in fact I actually have no idea where they are now as I never had to use them ever again!
What is this magic trick you ask? How does it work?
Let me explain...
During the 1 hour session I was taught how to condition Azera to understand the disks and that they meant No! This consisted of 2 exercises which I then had to repeat for a week! It takes a full week of doing both exercises 2-3 times a day to condition your dogs to the disks. You have to be consistent with this, if you are not it won't work!
Ask yourself, do you want to stop the unwanted behaviour or not? Is it not worth the effort for 2 weeks work? If yes then follow the below...
Have your dog stand in front of you get their attention with a treat in your hand. Have the disks in your other hand. Hold the treat up to your face (next to your cheek) and then put it on the floor. If your dog goes for the treat throw the disks at the floor and say No (in your stern voice) Don't throw the disks at the dog, this probably goes without saying but just in case. You simply want them to land on the floor not too far away from the treat and your dog. Your dog should back away. Repeat this exercise, I would do it about 10 times then take a break, repeat again much later in the day. I repeated this 2-3 times each day for 7 days.
Additional benefit - this teaches your dog not to eat off the floor so if they come across things when your out they won't eat them.
This task has no treats. This uses your front door. Everyone's house will be different, some people will have an inner front door, some people have more space than others. At the time and now we have a hallway from the front door. I had to make an imaginary line as a safe zone for Azera, basically she's not allowed to cross that line until she's invited. Stand by your front door and ask your dog to sit or stand behind your imaginary line. Have your disks in one hand closer to the dog, with your other reach for the door handle. This will generally trigger your dog to move forward in anticipation of the door moving. As soon as they move throw the disks at the floor and say No sternly.
This is a progressive exercise, the aim is to continue to practice this 2-3 times a day by the end of which you want to be able to fully open your door and your dog won't move. This took us 2 days with Azera (she's a fast leaner).
For the remaining 5 days of the week, we had to step up this exercise. Get your partner/child/friend to knock the door. In my house this results in instant barking and running towards the door. I don't tell off the barking as I want her to make me aware of any intruders or untoward noises. However, as she's conditioned to opening the door when I put my hand on the door handle she should stay behind the imaginary line and quieten down. The door knocking totally changes the game and you feel your back to square one. Persevere!!!
Again, have the disks in your hand ready, as soon as the dog moves beyond the imaginary line or in fact if the dog is already passed the line and invading the safe door space throw the disks at the floor. Remember here, the cue is you putting your hand on the door handle. If they don't move back throw the disks on the floor, shout No or back to get them behind the line. They may not move back instantly, you may need to pick up the disks and throw them again repeating No and Back until they are where you want them to be. (Make sure your friend/partner/child knows to wait patiently on the other side of the door).
This was slightly more challenging and took 4 of the 5 days remaining in the week to perfect but we got there! Perseverance is key here. The ultimate goal is to be able to open the door and your guest to come in without your dog moving passed the line until they are invited.
Additional benefit - this will keep your dog safe when you open the door, while teaching them manners when someone comes over!
Even though she had perfected both tasks by the 6th day of the week we still repeated the exercises on the 7th to ensure she was doing everything right.
Using the disks for our problem...
After day 7 I took the disks out on our walk with us. I actually had advised a few people we saw on our regular route about what we were doing and let them know I would have the disks with me when I saw them that week. They were all too happy to help if they could.
We set off on our walk, disks in hand at the ready!
I stayed alert so as soon as Azera reacted to someone approaching, I threw the disks on the floor and said NO!
We repeated, over and over with everyone we saw, more importantly with every reaction Azera had. Anyone who's met my baby girl knows she has her own little diva attitude and she talks back. Her barks and howls quickly turned to petulant grumbles as she clearly did not like the disks being thrown. I still threw the disks for this as I wanted to stop the behaviour altogether.
I say 2 weeks I actually think by the 4-5th walk so 2-3 days into the second week she stopped barking and growling. I kept the disks with me at the ready just in case. By the end of that week they were in my pocket not needed and to this day I've no idea where they went but I do know that Azera doesn't do this anymore!
We achieved our goal! We both enjoy our walks so much more and Azera is no longer at risk of any unwanted canine reactions to her barking or anyone feeling threatened or intimidated by her behaviour.
I am happy to answer any questions anyone may have about this or help in anyway I can.