August 2, 2008

New Zealand Farm working Dogs. Training a pup on a stool.

By Dr Clive Dalton

This puppy training technique was developed by the late Alan Lourie who in his latter years after an active farming life lived in Palmerston North NZ. 

Alan Lourie won many dog trials, gun dog trials and obedience trials.  He trained his dogs to do all sorts of tricks to keep their minds active and was a master of animal behaviour.  To prove a point about the ability of his dogs to stay till commanded to move – he once left a gun dog (spaniel) in the stay command position all day and went back to get it at night to the amazement of his critics.  He retired at 63 Fitzroy Street in Palmerston North where he died in his 80s.  He taught many famous dog trialists their first basic skills.

Alan never published any of his ideas, but after interviewing him, he was happy to check what I had written below and happy for it to go on my blog.  It appeared in the “New Zealand Farmer” March 24, 1983 edited by the late Neil Rennie as editor.

The initial problem
It’s easy to build a bond with a pup and get it to follow your every step. It's when you have to leave it to 'sit' or 'stay' that it gets very upset and confused as it sees its pack leader disappear leaving it in what it sees as danger.  So its natural instinct is to do what it's learned - follow it's 

It’s the ‘sit’ and ‘stay’ that can be tricky with strong-willed and smart pups as they interpret ‘stay’ as 'the pack leader is leaving me in danger', so it wants to follow to be safe.

Steps in the method 
The approach to training is a simple step-by-step approach and should start no later than three months old.  I do not teach the “Down” command as it is not necessary.  The basic exercises are taught on a narrow stool which prevents the pup making any unnecessary movements.  It also saves the handler bending down.

Step A
Lift the pup on to the stool and praise it.  It is best to start off with the stool against a wall.  The exercise should be done three times a day for no more than two minutes each time.  Praise the pup only after you have lifted it on to the stool and while it stays there.  Do not praise it after you have lifted it backwards off the stool.  Note that you never take the pup off the stool in a forward direction.  When the pup is quite happy to be put on the stool and taken down again, teach step B.

Step B – “Sit”

Put one hand under the pup’s chin and gently grab a lump of skin.  With the other hand pressing down on the pup say “Sit” in a high-pitched voice, give the command quietly but push down quickly on the rump while lifting the head.  Hold the pup down and praise with “Good dog”.  Do this for tow minutes then take the dog back to its run.  Repeat three times a day.  Praise only while it is sitting.  Release it backwards off the stool and do not give more praise.
When the pup is sitting on the stool when commanded – then teach C.

Step C – “Stand”
The stand is taught by raising the pup from the sitting position by putting you hand on top of its head and the other under its belly with the command “Stand”.  On the command, slowly and quietly lift the hindquarters while pushing down on its head.  Praise only when the pup is standing.  Release backwards off the stool with no more praise.

Do this exercise three times a day for spells of two minutes each.  Make the word for the command have a long “Staaand” sound to contrast with the short, sharp “Sit” command sound. Never let the pup fight you.  Use your strength, pressure and do it quickly.  Hold the pup in position and praise it. Then when proficient at this exercise – teach step D – the most important “Stay” command.

Step D – “Stay”

Move the stool away from the wall and put the pup on it.  Then you can walk around it using the command “Stay”.  Use a kind voice returning to the pup many times, holding it in position and praising it.  As the lessons proceed, you can walk further and further away from the pup in any direction, rushing back if it moves or to reinforce the command and reassure the pup.  If it goes to move, use the sharp command “No”.

Stay means stay!
The “Stay” command will soon be understood by the dog as meaning – “Stay where I put you for ever until I give you the command to move”!  This is vitally important because on the is command a dog will relax and even go to sleep, and not get into a state of agitation and stress wondering where it’s boss has gone, getting up tight and move away to look for him/her if they have gone out of sight.

Returning to the pup
The “Stay” command is perfected by you always going back to the dog and relaxing it backwards from the spot you have left it.  But how you return is critical. 

Return to the pup as previously and stand perfectly still by its right shoulder.  Slowly count to 10 or even 20 to teach the pup to be patient and then go down on one knee and hold the pup in that position while quietly praising it before relaxing it backwards from the spot. 
There are two important “don’ts”.  First o not return to the pup and give it immediate praise or it will anticipate this and jump off the stool to meet you.  Then do not call the dog to you from the “Stay” or it will encourage it to break when it becomes concerned about where you are or what is going to happen next. 

How then do you move a dog from the “Stay” position?  The answer is to teach the dog to “Wait”.

Step E – “Wait”
“Wait” is a completely different command.  The pup has to learn that it means “stop, stand still, but stay alert because another command is coming very soon”. The dog will learn to move forward to you from the “Wait” command but it should never shift from the “Stay” command until you go back to it.

Benefits of the stool
It’s now that you can see the benefit of the stool – in the kitchen, in the woolshed away from any other distractions for the pup.  Under these conditions the pup will learn ten times faster than when running around on the ground picking up bad habits from other dogs and being distracted during the lessons.  By this stage with the stool, the pup has learned no bad habits and has accepted you as its master and team leader.  It has developed the habit of looking for you two or three times a day.  These exercises can even be started from two months old and by three months it should have learned all the A,B,C, D stages.

The stool lessons can then be changed by moving the stool outside into the paddock.  The pup will learn that these commands are you definite instructions.  If it breaks from any step – then go back to the previous one.  Do not move on until each step has been well learned and the pup reacts on the first command without question or delay.

The “Get up” command

If you put a block at the back of the stool to act as a step, then it’s easy to teach the pup to “Get up” on to the stool when it is big and strong enough.  You can’t expect a little put to do this too soon.  If a robust pup is reluctant to jump up, then a short sharp pull on a lead up on to the stool with the command “Get up” will fix it, along with plenty of praise once it has arrived.  He’ll be surprised to suddenly find itself on the stool getting great praise and soon forget about the pull that got it there.

When older this “Get up” exercise can be done on to anything around the place – and eventually on to the bike and the backs of tightly-held sheep.  It all starts on the stool.

Some key points to remember
  • The top of the stool should be 750mm long, 200mm wide and 25mm thick.  It should be at least 400mm above the ground.
  • A young pup when on the stool and looking down sees it as too high to jump off, but it is wide enough to make it feel reasonable safe without moving.
  • You never ever take the pup off the stool in a forward direction – always backwards.
  • When you go back to the pup – always wait standing still before you complete the action.  Otherwise it will not wait for your command and will anticipate your praise and move – and as it gets bigger jump off.
  • If you praise the pup as soon as it gets off the stool, it will then learn to jump up to get praise all over you (and other humans) and this is hard to correct later.
  • To stop it jumping up for praise, give it a smart pat on the head with the command - “That’ll do” and walk away ignoring it.

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