Lyra 4.75 months: my good dog is back - today anyway

Today I took Lyra for training with a few other trainers, and she was brilliant.

She wasn't afraid of anything.  She wasn't hyper attracted to the other people and dogs present.  She needed very little sightseeing time before asking to work.  Her interest in food was a bit higher than typical, and she's finally got enough teeth to grip a toy without falling off after three seconds.  What this means is that I got to do something besides stare at my dog.

We worked on two things:  heeling for the group in schutzhund (shown in video), and recalls/random drops away from me.

The group in schutzhund is similar to the figure eight exercise in AKC obedience.  To replicate the schutzhund group, I asked my helpers to move around slowly in a random pattern and to ignore Lyra.  I've practiced this exercise once or twice before, but this is the first time I felt like she understood that ignoring the person and concentrating earns the reward. By the end, I was walking her over their feet and she was maintaining focus and a very good attitude.

The goal of this exercise is to teach Lyra that the presence of people makes it doubly important to  pay attention.  To accomplish this, I start with a smaller goal.   If she passed by a person and maintained attention in heeling, then I'd reward as soon as we passed.  As she developed an understanding of the game,  I gently pushed her out of heel position and into the person as we passed - if this distracted her then we'd circle around and try again.

Soon, the presence of people or feeling them touch her will become a reminder to lock on me and fight to stay in heel position.  As she grows more confident and sophisticated, I will work harder to cause her to fail, followed by success.  For example, I will have my group of people offer her food or toys, or talk to her in a pleasant voice.  If she looks away at them, I wait until she convinces herself that she's not going to get their goodies or personal attention.  Then we do it over.  If she locks in on me and ignores the distractions, I'll reward with a high value game of tug.

I'm working to build a dog who chooses to pay attention because work is interesting and challenging rather than a dog who pays attention because she's afraid of the consequences of looking away.



Tania, almost all good training is premack. “if you sit then I give you a cookie”. That makes sitting more likely. Just remember to use reinforcers that 1) you can control if needed – opening the gate to the dog park, for example, or 2) that will never show up in a dog show situation. Because people will show up in a dog show ring, and Lyra will never be allowed to greet them, I would not use it there. On the other hand, I frequently ask Lyra to come away from something that interests her and then send her right back to it. For example, I have sheep here. If she does nice work for me, I’ll send her to watch the sheep. then I call her off the sheep and hand her a cookie and send her back to the sheep. This is not really premack, since she is coming for the cookie, but by sending her back to the sheep I am adding a level of premack. She gets to have her cake (cookie) and eat it too (Sheep). What i"m hoping for is habit….listen to me and all sorts of good things happen. If I thought I’d see sheep at a dog show I would never do this.

Melinda Wichmann

“I’m working to build a dog who chooses to pay attention because work is interesting and challenging rather than a dog who pays attention because she’s afraid of the consequences of looking away.”

I love this. It was one of the biggest lessons I learned last year.


LOL I don’t know if I would be talented enough to heel around moving figure 8 people. That is pretty impressive :)


No, I consider premack a last resort in most cases because the motivators you use are on the ones you build. What I want to do is reduce her interest in visiting people and dogs, by showing her it just isn’t going to happen, and that is not where her best interest lies. In a ring situation, it’s not helpful to train her to believe that I’m going to let her visit, because she never will. Eventually she would figure out that premack does not apply in the ring, and then I risk her choosing to take that option on her own.


Interesting. I use a lot of Premack for general training and I love it (recalls away from all sorts of things are super speedy and enthusiastic), but I am having some problems and I think my mechanics may not be right. As you note, my dogs have come to expect to be released to the distraction in certain situations and will perform the behavior I ask for and then turn their attention to the reward, waiting for the release. I may have to rethink some of this…

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