Talking dogs: Halloween a sweet time for training

November 3, 2014

There are few holidays that offer so many dog training opportunities as Halloween. I currently have a 15-month-old dachshund, Curtis, who needs to catch up with my other dogís education concerning house rules. Halloween, with lots of foot traffic and ringing of the doorbell, presents the perfect training scenario.

I will not offer Curtis any meals on Halloween ó I will use his food, combined with additional yummy treats, during the training process.

I do not wish my dogs to bark when someone rings our doorbell. This is a personal preference; with numerous dogs living indoors, it is paramount to my sanity that all dogs remain quiet when someone comes to the door.

This is easy to accomplish and fun as well. As I hear people coming up the steps, I will toss a handful of treats down the hallway and allow Curtis to begin his cookie hunt. When the doorbell rings, he will be busy on this other task, and he canít possibly bark and eat at the same time. Not only does this prevent the bothersome door barking from becoming a habit, this also reinforces the concept that the sound of the doorbell equals a cookie hunt.

Iíve been working on Curtisí "Settle" for a while now, and Halloween will offer some great distractions to proof this exercise. When given his "Settle" cue, he is to lie down and remain in that spot until given his release cue. As I hear people coming up the steps, I will give him this "Settle" cue.

Initially, I will toss him a treat about every five seconds, to reinforce his settled position. As the training session progresses, I will raise my expectations and criteria, and will only reinforce about every 10-15 seconds. Once the trick-or-treaters get their loot and leave, I will release him, but not always immediately; his release cue will be given at random times after we have closed the front door, so Curtis doesnít assume that the closing door means itís his time to get up. Of course heíll probably make the mistake of getting up before I cue him to do so; this simply results in me returning to him, and recuing him to "Settle" once again. I donít pay out treats when mistakes are made; I ignore them.

A new cue that I will begin to shape is the "Leave It" cue. Like all cues, this can be taught many ways, and may have different meanings for each individual. In Curtisí world, "Leave It" will mean, "Donít touch it: not now, not ever." I prefer to teach this concept using only items that will never be appropriate for my dog to touch, pick up, or otherwise molest in any way: a roll of toilet paper, the television remote, my guinea pigs, a dish towel, etc.

With Curtis facing me, I will drop the household item at my side; as he moves to investigate it, I will step in front of it, blocking his access, and say "Leave It." Any attempt he makes to get around me to check out the goodie on the floor will be met with me stepping in between him and the item and again repeating, "Leave It." Regardless of how many attempts he makes to get at the item, when he ceases this activity he will be rewarded with praise and a treat from me; he will receive a bonus treat or game of tug if he immediately avoids the dropped item and looks at me instead.

Finally, when he has gotten accustomed to the routine of the evening, I will practice one additional desensitization exercise. People come in all shapes and sizes and can sometimes be rather scary to a dog, particularly on Halloween. With Curtis attached to a leash, Iíll bring him to the door with me. About one second after I open the door and he looks at the costumed kids in front of us, I will drop a handful of treats to the floor for him to consume while I hand out candy.

This accomplishes a number of things: strangers at the door equal something good for Curtis, and the treats also keep him in place and quiet, so attempting to go out the door or interact with the kids in any way is prevented.

Have a safe and Happy Halloween, and remember: Chocolate is toxic to dogs, so keep the candy bags out of reach.



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