Front loading your dog training sessions

This post applies to both training sessions for general work like recalls and also behavioural work like aggression or nervousness.

I started applying this almost inadvertently. When I initially meet clients, especially for behavioural sessions, the client can understandably be nervous. Judgements from others, not knowing what to expect and feeling that they are not in control of their dogs can all play a part in this. I’ve already spoken to most of my clients at least once on the phone, so I hope I’ve put them at ease and let them know that what they’ve done in the past is in the past and that we are there to try to de-stress them and their dog and to resolve the issues they are having.

With all dog training, engagement with your dog is absolutely key. Some clients have little or no relationship with their dog, so we start by getting them to engage with their dog either through play or by feeding them. We do this in a low distraction environment, so that the dog gets some training and the client sees the techniques working. In aggression cases, we do this even before we see the stimulus which causes the dog to react. The client’s skill level and how trainable the dog is, are factors which determine how long we do this for. Sometimes it can be 5 minutes and sometimes a bit longer, even as much as 20 minutes.

What happens here is that the owner is teaching the dog that they are relevant in that environment. Often, I see people out walking with their dogs who are listening to their ipod or talking on the phone. in many circumstances, they are teaching their dogs that the dog is on his own time throughout the walk and they wonder why the dog won’t recall when they need it to.

Now the dog knows the owner is there and is a source of fun. Short “dog time” sessions are frequently interrupted by engaging, fun sessions with Mum or Dad and then they are let off to play again.

Here’s where the “front loading” part really comes into play. When the training starts, the dog has already been paying attention to the owner for the past 5-20 minutes. What I find here is that they are then far more likely to engage with the owner, or at least disengage from the reactive stimuli that they were before. It seems very obvious and according to the rules of common sense but the level of interaction the dog is willing to give you is high.

So, next time you take your dog out for a walk, for what ever reason, think about feeding her for a couple of minutes by hand before you go out the front door. Ask him to sit in front of you in the front garden and play a game of tug before you even get out the gate. Do this at regular intervals throughout out the walk to the park and again before you release him to play when you get there. You will find he is much more willing to spend time with you.

Until next time, happy dog training


Martin working with the now non-reactive Magnus in next to Archie the Boxer


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