Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Puppy Training Idea: "Check It"

When I took Katie to puppy school one of the things we learned was a useful command called "check it". This phrase is used to help dogs get over their fears of just about anything. To teach this in class we set the puppies up by using objects we thought they might be afraid of. The first thing we used was an umbrella. The teacher was kneeling on the floor at one end of the room with a closed umbrella. We would each walk our puppies towards her and when we got close she would open the umbrella. Most of the puppies were afraid and would be reluctant to approach the scary umbrella.

Here's how "Check It" works. The owner of the puppy says "check it" and then basically ignores the puppy. Then the owner approaches the umbrella (or other scary object) with great excitement. "What a beautiful umbrella, etc" Then you place extremely tasty treats all around and even on the object and repeat the phrase "check it". Hopefully the dog will venture forward to get the treats. If the dog is still too afraid then make a path of treats leading from the dog to the object. Just be patient. Do not touch the dog or give it any reassurance. If you pet the dog and say "It's ok baby" in a sweet little voice while it is afraid you are just reinforcing the fear state. Essentially, you are praising the dog for being scared and you actually start to encourage it to be a fearful dog. Instead, ignore the dog and just repeat the Check it phrase. Once the dog begins eating the treats and exploring around the object tell them "Good Check It" with great enthusiasm. Our teacher said make it like a party...very exciting and fun. It can also help to have a dog who is not fearful to go first. That can also help the scared dog to relax.

One important point to keep in mind is to start off slow with complex item like vacuum cleaners and dog dryers. Begin to teach Check It with these items turned off and not moving. Once the dog is comfortable gradually introduce noise and movement in future sessions. Katie used to be terrified of the vacuum, but now she doesn't mind it a bit.

Here is an example of how I used this method. Katie used to be so afraid of anything with wheels (except cars...they were fine)...strollers, bicycles, skateboards all freaked her out. I was afraid she was never going to get over these fears, but one day a very friendly Dad was out strolling his baby around. I asked him if he would mind helping me to train my dog for five minutes. I went up to the stroller while it wasn't moving and put treats on the ground near it. Then I gave Katie the "check it" command. She slowly came over to grab the goodies. As she was munching with one eye steadily fixed on the terrifying stroller, she began to realize that it wasn't scary. She relaxed and has never been afraid of one since. Of course we had to go through the same routine with a bicycle, shopping cart and even a person using a cane. Eventually they get so used to the check it command that just hearing the words causes them to relax. They think "If Mama says check it, then it's safe. I don't have to be afraid".


Kathryn and Ari said...

It sounds like you have a wonderful dog school. We're huge fans of postive-reinforcement training: from leave it to take it and everything in between, it's helped create a lot of harmony in our happy house!

Anonymous said...

The first thing I plan to do after I get my own apartment is get a dog. I still haven’t decided if I want to get a puppy or an adult dog from a shelter. Right now getting an adult dog from a shelter (that has some training already) sounds like the better option as I don't know that I'll have time for puppy training. Either way this post has good advice I'll remember for when I get my dog.