Donna has a limited repertoire of skills because I don’t really make time to expand it. That is what I want to do with her while she is still young and active.

How we took this photo “Leave it” so she knew to leave the kibble alone. Nose” to get Donna to go near the kibble where I wanted her to be. She typically would sit far away from temptation otherwise. :P “Sit-stay”. She hasn’t learnt “Watch me”, so I just snapped when she happened to look at the camera. Patience required. It also helps to make weird noises that get her attention sometimes :P 

What has helped me a lot in making sure she has not forgotten what she already knows is the Nothing In Life Is Free program. It basically means the dog only gets a treat if she has done something to earn it. Integrating that concept into our interaction with her means that she gets some form of instruction or reinforcement of good behaviour everyday.

1. Mealtimes are easy training opportunities

The table below shows how I tried to use key feeding times throughout the day for training. Normally I just get her to practice what she already know so she doesn’t forget. Integrating training into these points of the day helps me a lot because otherwise, it is likely I will not be as mindful about training her consistently on a daily basis.

Frequency Intent Behaviour Rewards
Meal 1 Refresh basic commands – Nose
– Wave
– Sit-Stay
– Go to crate
– Shake-a-paw
– High-Five
kibble + canned
Meal 2 Mental exercise Play with treat dispensing toys Kibble
Meal 3 New skills – Leg weaving
– Spinning
– Sit pretty
– Backward heel
Canned food

Mealtimes are definitely the easiest times to train simply because the rewards are there and the dog is eager. She is  already tuned in to the fixed feeding schedule and routines that we have.

Along the way, I decided to use different mealtimes for different purposes. This helps me not fall into the easy trap of just reinforcing her on commands that she already knows. The different purposes are identified in the Intent column for each meal.

2. Every walk is an opportunity for dog to learn good walking habits

Training during dogwalking is a huge incentive for me because I get very bored otherwise. I get absolutely no incentive for standing around doing nothing while the dog takes her own sweet time sniffing the dirt.

But I get inconsistent here too. Often I run out of treats or it is too hot or too hazy. But otherwise, just being outdoors in a distracting environment helps to reinforce the dog for behaviours that help hugely for when we bring her to highly busy environments like the Pet Expo.

Frequency Intent Behaviour Rewards
Walks (morning/night) Outside skills – Loose leash
– Off-leash
– Come, Nose
– Go sniff
– Leave it
– Jump/Up
– Stay, Wait
– Let’s go
– Slow
– Fetch
– Stop
Meat cubes

3. Grooming time is opportunity to reinforce behaviours that make grooming easy but also most difficult to reinforce when dog is stressed

Tooth brushing

We recently bought two expensive bags of Greenies at the pet expo and I tell you she goes crazy for them. I give her one Greenies at bedtime when I’m too tired to struggle with her over tooth brushing.

And yes, there lies my dilemma. It seems recommended for no food 2 hours before or after tooth brushing so there’s no incentive for her to like toothbrushing. She gets too grumpy with me for play to be an incentive.

So right now, Greenies and tooth-brushing are interchangeable during bedtime. I want to make toothbrushing a discipline every night simply because Donna’s teeth are in such bad condition. But I need to find some way to help her like it.

And that also means I need to slot the Greenies somewhere else, since there’s no point in putting them together, is there?

Frequency Intent Behaviour Rewards
Bedtime Refresh tricks – Go to crate
– Sit-Stay
– Come
– Play dead
– Rollover
Bedtime Toothbrushing – Sit-Stay
– Keep calm & Hold Still
Yummy toothpaste is not incentive enough :(

Bath, Ear cleaning and Nail Cutting

These are the three things we are really bad at. I used to throw kibble into the bathroom during mealtime just so that she can get comfortable walking into the shower herself. A lot of the preparation training during mealtimes help, but when it  comes to the actual thing I still struggle to have her keep calm, lie on her side and play dead for her nail cutting for example.

Sometimes, she just doesn’t want to respond and throws the treats on the floor, refusing them altogether. The good thing is nowadays she refuses food because she is grumpy and not because she went beyond threshold and is too fearful to respond. *Phew*

Still having a reluctant dog makes grooming a chore for the human at times, so sadly there are days the human needs to incentivise herself to groom her dog weekly. :P

Frequency Intent Behaviour Rewards
After weekly bath, ear-cleaning Matwork – Go to mat
– Stay
– Relax
Regular Kong
Weekly nail clipping Relax while nail clipping Play dead Meat cubes

Three times the opportunity for progress

So training for Donna in our household has always been off the top of the head, ad hoc and “when I feel like it“. Making these tables has really helped me to clarify the results I want to get from the different opportunities present, and also where it seems most efficient to train what command.

The first time I accidentally cut her nail to the quick was just a couple weeks back. I was properly horrified by the drops of blood that leaked form the cut! Feeling kind of resistant to try to cut her nails since then still. *Goes and looks for chocolate, haha.*

I have the say my complaints about grooming, I’m sure it’s my own fault for not being consistent. For all I know, she might be very amenable to them by now if I had kept consistent at desensitisation and trying to counter-condition her to like it.

So hopefully now that I’ve gone though this exercise, I will be more consistent and successful with the grooming part of it. Wish me luck!