Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Teaching a Dog to Give on Cue

We recognize that animals have the right to defend themselves and their possessions. No one watching a nature show on TV, or wildlife in their own back yard, would think it unreasonable or abnormal when an animal chases another away from its food source. No one would label that animal bad, aggressive, dominant or unpredictably dangerous.
We consider a person who acts in self-defense to be within his right, and our law, in theory anyway, protects us from thieves.
When it comes to dogs, though, our perception changes. We expect from our canine companion that he relinquishes any possession to any human without objection. 
But just because we expect and wish it, doesn’t mean it works that way. It doesn't because it is against nature. Dogs, like every other species, will protest if someone they understand as an opponent attempts to take something that is important to them.
People, including the owner, become opponents when they forcefully wrangle a possession out of a dog’s mouth. The dog experiences loss at the literal hand of the person, and if he is confident enough will become guarded and offensive the next time the hand reaches for his mouth. Normally, a dog would give a warning first, but if that is futile, may bite.
The problem is that with our owned dogs, realistically in a lifetime, there will be situations where we must take something away - something that could harm him or a valued possession of ours he's snatched. 
The solution: To convince the pooch that giving is better than keeping.  

Chirag Patel is a trainer and behavior expert from the UK, and very generous in sharing his wisdoms. I love his "drop-it" clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ndTiVOCNY4M
You can find out more about Chirag, including more video clips, at www.domesticatedmanners.com

Another option is to play the trade up game.
First, identify 10 things - 10 is a good number but not edged in stone - your dog is interested in. It should include different foods, toys and chewy/bone type items. 
Establish a hierarchy, staggered from lowest to highest value as perceived by your dog and keep in mind that that could vary, and then orchestrate training sessions with all items handy and under your control.
Begin by offering a lower valued toy. A toy is best because you want your dog to hold on to it for a few moments, so food won’t work and a bone or chewy is typically higher up the value hierarchy.
Let your dog enjoy it for about 15-20 seconds, and then wave something in front of him he cares a little more about. That part is crucial. Your dog must want what you have more than what he has. Kibble in exchange for a bone is not going to cut it. 
There is a segment in Dr. Patricia McConnell’s DVD “Reading Between the Lines” of an adolescent retriever whose owner, following the advice of her previous trainer, insisted he give up a toy. She threw some kibble to persuade him, which he ignored cause he wanted to keep the toy, and he gave his human plenty of warning signals that he did, which the person ignored. Aggression increasingly escalated, and if I remember correctly, the dog was eventually euthanized.
So remember to trade up. If you get it right, your dog will open his mouth to grab the better thing you offer, and in the process drop what he already has, and that’s when you attach the give command. Repeat, and end with giving your dog something of high value he can keep. 
A variation is to have an identical toy stored away you’d retrieve and play with when your dog has his. Talk to it, toss it in the air, be animated, pretend you are having great fun while not paying any attention to your dog and his toy. Chances are that he will want in on your game, and drop his toy in order to play with yours. When he does, attach your cue, and play with him for a few moments.

If your dog likes toys, but is also super motivated by food, play chase’n’grab.
Securely attach a toy to an about 6 feet long rope, then drag it behind you. Almost every dog’s interest is instantly keened when something is in motion, and he’ll try to catch it. When he is about to grab it, say get, stop moving, and toss a high valued treat. A flying treat is likely to get your dog's attention and he'll pounce after it, releasing the toy. Again, say give when he does it, let him have the food treat, and repeat, repeat, repeat... 
Fast repetitive motion sequences are a lot of fun for a dog, and releasing the toy becomes doubly rewarding: he gets a piece of delectable food and the game goes on. The dog experiences that releasing something prey-like has a pay off, and he also practices to release when in a somewhat aroused state.
Once giving on command is a habit, you don’t need the treats any longer. Continuation of the game is the sole reinforcement.
End the game with untying the toy and handing it over, or giving him another.

If you identify your dog’s hierarchy of motivators correctly, and if you practice often and with a variety of items, and if you manage dog and environment accordingly to prevent that he gets hold of something inappropriate until you established a solid give, you should never be in a position of confrontation.
If you made a mistake and your dog filched something, don’t force it away and risk a bite. Try to find something better to trade up.
Think twice before you chase your dog. Running away with a possession can be a strong play chase invitation, and if you race after your dog you reinforce him for running away with something that belongs to you, and he’ll be on the lookout for the next thing to pilfer if he wants to play chase. So, even if it’s your new Italian leather pump he’s got, keep cool: Get his attention with a high-pitched excited voice and snappy body movements, and when you have it coax him to come to you, trade for one of his toy, and then play with him. Your dog will learn to initiate play with his toy. Nothing wrong with playing chase, but only with established rules: Your toys only and you need to come when called.
If your pup has something he could keep, sometimes give the original item back after you traded and played a bit. A dog who experiences that bringing you stuff doesn’t always mean that he loses it, and gets something rewarding on top, will bring you anything, including something dead he nosed out on a hike. 

Releasing something that is already in da gob is a tough thing for dogs to do. And for people too, by the way. It is called loss aversion. 
Giving something important to a human on request is a trust, not a dominance issue. With a puppy, we can build that trust right from the start. With an older dog who experienced loss at the hands of humans in his past, it can take some time, but with patience and practice, and above ideas, every dog can learn to give on cue.