Sunday, April 20, 2008


Stephen jokes that he is waiting to adopt the Never Say Never Greyhound flunkies. I have to admit that it is kind of nice to know that if any of my greyhounds aren't thrilled with the idea of being a participant in competitive obedience and agility that they can simply become Stephen's hiking buddy. Its a win win situation because he gets a well trained dog and I can start over with someone new. But while some dogs are easier to train than others, each dog is quite honestly a reflection of the trainer's abilities. Dog training isn't simply a recipe to follow, but more like a creative work of art. Each dog comes to the table with issues, characteristics, and desires that making him or her unique and its up to the trainer to determine the best way for the dog to reach full potential. Probably the most important piece of the puzzle is reinforcement (what's in it for the dog?).

Greyhounds are generally considered difficult to train beyond the basics. I think that success is often related to the level of reinforcement. First, it helps to choose greyhounds that are easy to reward with food. It is very difficult to train a dog that works only for rabbits. Food, on the other hand, is easy to carry and easy to keep interesting. A missed meal or 2 can quickly increase a hound's interest in treats. Secondly, use hard to resist food that has a strong smell. Those odorless treats you buy at the store probably won't work well for long. Dogs don't take the time to taste their food, so its important that they can at least smell it on the way down. I use a lot of Red Barn dog food which is a high quality, meat based food that comes in a sausage type roll. It is soft and easy to cut into bite sized pieces. Red Barn can get boring if used all of the time, so I mix it with other strong smelling food such as hot dogs, Tyson grilled chicken strips, Swiss cheese, cheddar cheese, fishy salmon treats, and so on. I also let the dogs lick peanut butter, creme cheese, and canned dog food as a reward from a small container.

Over time, expectations should go up. Travis and Katie are no longer rewarded for little things that Reagan is currently rewarded for. Its also important to get the treat out of your hand, so that the dog responds with or without a treat visible. This is where I think some trainers go wrong. People seem to think that the dog should not get a treat if the treat is not visible. However, initially the dog should actually get more. If Reagan responds to an empty handed request, I'll give her 3 treats instead of one. That is how the dog learns to respond regardless of the location of the treat.

At some point, your trained dog will probably choose to ignore you. I do believe that you do have to step in and make the correct response happen. Behaviors such as sit, down, stay, and coming when called are simply not optional once the dog fully understands what is asked.

Eventually, you may want for your dog to do several things before being paid. This is important for competing since you cannot carry treats with you in the ring. Competing in obedience is especially difficult because the dog must do numerous exercises for several minutes before receiving a reward. I condition my dogs to expect a jackpot. Katie and Travis learned to do what was asked and then a few minutes later they would receive a tremendous jackpot. I think Katie worked especially well in obedience because she loved the jackpots that followed. She always received compliments on her smart, deliberate, happy attitude. Of course, she would sometimes make mistakes in her haste, but I would prefer that to a dog that is frozen and indecisive.

I am happy to report that I do believe I am figuring out what makes Reagan tick. She is really coming along nicely. Our only continuing issue is that she does make too much noise when she is crated in the van and feels that she is missing out. I have started to counter condition that since I do believe the noise is directly related to stress and anxiety and that she is starting to relate that to the crate. So I have been returning to her crate frequently to feed her treats and chicken backs. I try to leave her with a stuffed Kong or a bully stick to keep her busy. I want her to like her crate and reinforce being quiet. I think it is working. I hate giving her all this extra stuff in front of Travis and Katie, but I have decided that she watches them eat in the morning, so they can watch her eat in the afternoon. They might not be getting as many bully sticks as Reagan is, but they are getting plenty of pity treats they would normally not be receiving.