Hudson and I have been going to the same trainer since Hudson was about 10 weeks old. Since December 8 we have been attending a CGC class and are to take the final test tomorrow. The trainer called me earlier in the week to see if I wanted some one-on-one training help with any issues for the test, and I did so we met today. The biggest issue Hudson and I have is that he will do anything for a treat, but without a treat he only does things if he feels like it (or so it seems to me). Anyway, the trainer actually told me today that he feels that he has left me down since Hudson does not have a solid "down" and he should by now. It was a little surprising to me that the trainer hadn't realized this sooner, especially since I have always had trouble with the "down" command. I am pretty sure that we will not pass our test tomorrow and I am not even sure if I want to go. I will decide tomorrow after a good night's sleep.
I am trying to decide if perhaps I should take a class with another trainer just to get a fresh perspective on Hudson and me. I know most of the training is to train me how to do things, and it may be time for me to try a different trainer. Have any of you had different trainers and does it work OK? I'm thinking of signing up for a different class with a different trainer and not try to take two classes at once from two different trainers.
I guess I'm just a little disappointed that this trainer waited until the eleventh hour to realize I needed extra help, even though he's been training me and Hudson for almost a year now and I would have thought he would have seen our weaknesses. Or maybe I'm expecting too much. I don't know.
Poodles are very smart. That doesn't mean they are a type of dog that will do anything to please you. The down command is tough for a lot of poodles, it isn't just Hudson. Bonnie is the smartest poodle I know, but if she didn't/doesn't feel like doing 'down' she'll look at me and snort! She knows what I want, she only needs to decide whether it is worth it or not. If there's a treat, down she goes instantly. If not, well, yah maybe- in a moment or two perhaps. She did get her CGC, but that down command without a treat was my only worry going in. When it came to the down I said it confidently and she looked at me. Luckily, they do not have to be instantaneous because after about ten seconds she decided to do it, slowly, but she did it and she passed.
Hudson might do the same thing. He might look at you and decide he doesn't feel like it or he might just plop down. Either way, please go to the test. Don't worry about passing it, go for the experience. You know he will ace parts of it and other parts will be more difficult for him. It isn't that important in the grand scheme of things, really it isn't.
To your question about a different trainer. Yes, it is always fun to change things up. Every trainer has their own techniques. Some work better than others for different dogs. This huge emphasis on treats in training has gone a tad overboard in my opinion. Treats are great and yes they work, but what happens when you don't have a treat?
I do hope you go for the testing. What's the worst that can happen? He doesn't go down. Oh, well.
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It sounds like the food wasn't utilized correctly. It sounds like it's being used as a bribe.
It shouldn't be showing in your hand (try keeping it behind your back and only bring it back around once the cue has been obeyed). If he's not complying when food isn't present, that means that he's aware that you have food ready and waiting for him and that's the only reason he's complying. No offense but that's bribery. "Show me the goods and I'll show you the obedience."
The food may also not have been phased out properly to intermittent use to keep him playing the odds rather than relying on a reward each and every time.
I'd look for another trainer who utilizes food properly and can also help you find other rewards that your dog will work for to mix it up. It's easy to become overly reliant on food. But when you use different rewards, you become less reliant on a single reward and you and your dog have less dependence on one reward and bribery is less apt to occur.
Once I'm sure the dog understands the cue and thus is performing it reliably because it's been sufficiently reinforced, I phase out the food to maybe every other time and the time that I don't give food, I offer a different reward instead. Then I offer food only every few times. Then even less than that. But I ALWAYS offer a reward of some sort, even if it's just a happy voice and a smile. A dog knows that they got it right and learn that as praise. When you being happy with them is paired with good things, they associate it as a reward. Your marker should be nice and strong too. A conditioned response should be that they realize that they got it right when they hear the marker. This in it's self should become a reward, conditioned as a good enough thing to work to achieve.
Other things that can suffice as a reward vary so much and it really depends on your dog. I've seen so many people, including trainers, convinced that dogs love petting when I see the dog leaning away from their hand or eyeballing their hand with the whites of their eyes, when in reality, it's a pet or a correction and the reward is really the withhold a correction. If a dog really enjoys petting enough to consider it a reward, they'd lean into it. So if that's the case, you can offer a ear scratch in lieu of a food reward every time
Maybe your dog likes to fetch a tennis ball. You can try throwing the ball sometimes as his reward.
Maybe he likes baby talk, you can baby talk him silly as a reward.
Maybe he loves play, you can shove him around and growl at him if that's his thing. Maybe a quick tug on a rope. Or a quick game of chase. Or do all of the above and more. Work in some Premack Principal. Soon enough, if you're in competition or whatnot, just the marker should suffice, as long as you offer periodic rewards to keep up the positive association. No one works for free. Not even dogs. The marker has to keep it's value so it has to be charged on occasion.
These are just some examples. A good trainer shouldn't be overly reliant on any one type of reward or the dog and the humans become overly reliant as well. This is one of the reasons a lot of people believe that corrections are necessary. The fact is that the reward hasn't been utilized correctly and frankly, the fault doesn't lie with the dog so it seems hardly fair to correct the dog for poor training. It doesn't sound like you're considering that. I really admire that you're looking for another trainer rather than giving into an urge to take it out on the dog.
What outwest said is true. You should have a whole arsenal of rewards so you're never without a reward to offer your dog.
Susan Garret is great to look to for ideas on developing and discovering other rewards, although she can be quite dependent on tugs but whatever.
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I think it is very helpful to use more than one trainer. I have two whose classes I regularly attend (same facility) and they put emphasis on different things. Both are very positive and I not only learn a lot in class but I also have a lot of fun. I think seeing a variety of approaches help you determine what works for you and your dog. Swizzle is very food motivated but Minnie is right that is just one reward and once he has mastered the behavior his treat ratio goes way down. Susan Garret does show in her DVD ways to correctly use food and toy rewards. Thanks for the Jean Donaldson reference FJM, I will have to check that out.
I would take the test, it is good experience and if he doesn't pass the first time that is OK.
Do you want to continue with your current trainer? I know I looked at Swizzle after a year and was amazed how much he progressed. Does he not have a solid down but has made real progress with other commands? I do see it as a positive that your instructor tried to address the lack of a solid down even if they left it a little late.
Jazz also wouldn't go down without a treat. Prior to his GCC, the day before and same day, I gave him a treat everytime and then when he took the test he went down expecting the treat. This might have been cheating but it all worked out because now, one year later, he goes down without a treat.
Best of luck today - I hope you gave it a try for the experience :-)
On a positive note your trainer was very honest about the down. Many would have put it all on you not understanding their method, etc.... I wouldn't hesitate to continue with someone that offers the additional help and is open about what may have been a missed focus area.
However.... I do think that you learn more about your dog and different training methods by going to multiple trainers. Bella is not quite two and we've worked with 5 agility instructors and 2 obedience instructors - this has been either though a class or seminars. I've learned a lot about the type of training that I want to use and what works best with my dog. Has every experience been positive - no in fact one was very negative and has resulting in lasting issues - but I've learned a ton. Interestingly enough the instructor Bella works best for is..... her puppy class instructor - she loves going there!
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Do you use hand signals? We have found that Wade understands/responds to hand signals much better than verbal commands. If we give him a "down" verbally and he doesn't listen, we then add the hand signal and he goes down right away. Same thing for "stand." He is usually excellent on "sit," but if he's distracted, I'll get him to look at me then give him the "sit" hand signal and he nails it. I highly recommend incorporating hands if you haven't already!
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I agree. I like to use both hand signals and verbal signals at the same time. It's a two pronged assurance that the dog understands what you're asking.
Sometimes when a dog isn't reliably performing a specific behavior, it can help to reteach it from scratch. I think the most reliable and easiest way to teach a "down" is to capture it. This is a great example. Better than I can explain it.