Training my dog the positive way

September 9, 2019

When Kirsty got puppy Jessie, she discovered she had a passion for dog training. Read this winning team’s story.

When I got Jessie, just over a year ago, I would have never expected for a dog to have changed my life and outlook so much.

First and foremost she brings a smile to my face every day, when she greets me with her whole body wiggling with pure excitement and when she cosies up close to me for a snuggle.

However, I never realised how much I would love training Jessie and how it would become something that I’m truly passionate about.

Puppy training

Our training journey started when Jessie was 12 weeks old when we attended our first puppy class. It was only us and the lady running the session and we set about introducing the clicker to Jessie and doing some simple reward based training.

These sessions were valuable as over time different dogs joined and it was great to socialise Jessie in this way, which is so important for young puppies. This early socialisation has helped Jessie to be happy and comfortable around different breeds of dog, as well as helping her to develop good ‘dog manners’ when interacting with her counterparts.

“…this resulted in Jessie often not ‘playing ball’ in puppy classes, including running off into the kitchen, hiding in the agility tunnel and getting distracted by many different scents during retrieval practise.”

But, although Jessie is a cockapoo, we have seen overtime that she demonstrates many of the typical ‘spaniel’ behaviours, which means that she is very energetic, inquisitive, intelligent and adventurous. So this resulted in Jessie often not ‘playing ball’ in puppy classes, including running off into the kitchen, hiding in the agility tunnel and getting distracted by many different scents during retrieval practise.

As well as all of this, Jessie was awful on a lead! She would pull us down the road like a husky pulling a sled, as well as lunging at anything and everything.

So, we decided we needed to find a more structured way to train her. At this point in time, Jessie had been going for training days with Viv at Walkies and we decided to book a block of training sessions with her. She fitted Jessie with a comfortable Perfect Fit Harness and we bought the double ended lead too.

Clicker training

Initially we learnt how to use a clicker properly to mark the desired behaviours and reward these with food. We did this off lead in a field that Viv used for training; clicking and rewarding ‘check ins’ from Jessie so she learnt that all the good stuff comes from us!

We also started learning how to teach Jessie to walk nicely on a lead, with the end goal being a calm, happy dog that walks next to us with a loose lead. Sounds simple, but it takes patience, time and no shortcuts. Things that we were happy to agree to; so where do we start!

The first lesson was ‘stop walking her’ to ensure that Jessie no longer got to practise the pulling that she had been doing up to that point. I was a bit worried about this because, all you ever get told is that you need to walk your dog to stop them getting overweight! But Viv assured me that we needed to practise walking her in the house and the garden, to familiarise her with the process before adding in the big, wide world as this hosts many more distractions! I will just add that we still took her to the park to let her off lead and played with her in the garden every day to ensure that we were meeting her exercising needs!

So we started this process and continued practising at home. We were (and still are) dedicated to training Jessie to being the best she can be, hence we were out with her in all weathers, even a particularly snowy day at the park!

“I realised that Jessie and I were more than dog and owner, we were completely in sync, she was completely focused and seemed to be driven to achieve, just as I was. ”

Jessie’s off lead work came on quickly and her recall is still one of her best attributes. However, her lead walking took a little more time to ‘click’. But about 5 months later (and after a lot of ups and downs), it looked like it was starting to sink in. She was able to walk on a lead, with focus and we were confident with what to do if she lost this concentration. We were getting there!

Positive training

During this time, I was enjoying training so much I started working with Jessie towards achieving the Level 2 Pet Ambassador Award. We practised lots, with Viv’s support and guidance as always and although I was incredibly nervous on the day of my assessment, we passed. I was over the moon and from that day I realised that Jessie and I were more than dog and owner, we were completely in sync, she was completely focused and seemed to be driven to achieve, just as I was.

But none of that would have been possible had I trained in any other way. We’ve trained Jessie and continue to do so, using force-free, kind methods paired with positive reinforcement which has resulted in a bond based on mutual respect and love. Additionally, these humane training techniques use evidence-based learning theories, which build trust and positive relationships between dogs and humans. Reward based methods are also more effective when training dogs as they are happier and it is easier for them to understand what the desired behaviours are.

Jessie and I are now working towards achieving our Level 3 Pet Ambassador Award and I’m passionate about force free dog training as well as promoting this by showing others what Jessie can do!

I will continue to train Jessie, as we both enjoy it and it continues to strengthen our relationship. But we don’t always train, we have ‘down time’ too, we love going for walks and exploring new places. As well as just having fun and playing like every owner and dog should do!

This little ball of fluff that came into our lives only just over a year ago has given me a new focus and I love every moment I spend with her. Whether that is training or just having a cuddle, Jessie is one of the best things in my life and I can’t think of a world without her. My biggest piece of advice to new puppy owners is to respect and love your dog always. As one day you will notice your dog look up at you, with complete trust and love in their eyes, and I can promise you, there’s nothing better than that.

What next?

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