|Posted on February 27, 2013 at 2:35 PM|
The value of training your dog a solid Drop It became abundantly clear to me a week or so ago. Angus and Spencer were halfway down the driveway, probably engaged in some troublesome activity - since Clancy was barking like a madman at the window from inside the house. Something was up, and I needed to intervene before an unfortunate wildlife encounter occured. Goodness knows, we've spent enough money on "wildlife encounters" in the past to financially assist our local vet in an extensive renovation to his office, should he choose to do so.
The endless Recall work we have done was also apparent, as Angus began the trip back to the house at a run. "How satisfying!" I thought to myself. What a good boy! But, as he drew closer, I realized his pace was hampered by what he was carrying in his mouth. As he got closer, I saw, to my horror, that he was carrying something about the size of a cat. A very large, well fed cat? A brown, glossy coated cat? No, a muskrat. Normally, I can handle the treasures my dogs bring home. A mouse, a garter snake (although that's pushing it), a deer leg... but a muskrat? Very quickly a vivid, long ago memory from childhood sprung to mind, of my mother armed with a broom and holding an overturned metal washtub. Dressed in her very best Sunday coat, wearing my father's rubber boots, and accompanied by our German Shepherd, Mom was battling with a very fiesty muskrat just outside our back door. To this day, I don't recall what became of the muskrat or what my mother hoped to accomplish with the washtub. However, one point was clear in my mind - I did not want a live, angry muskrat on my front porch.
In spite of that memory, what words automatically came out of my mouth? "Drop It... but not here!" Angus did drop the muskrat, and to be fair, we haven't worked on exactly where an object should be dropped. Either the creature was stunned, playing possum or dead, since it did not leap for my throat. The next problem was to convince Angus that he was not bringing his muskrat into the house for a relaxing chew in front of the fire. We negotiated, with Angus repeatedly dropping the muskrat and picking it up, as my goal became to get Angus into the house without the corpse, and his goal was to drag it into the house. Past experience with other treats acquired in the wild told me that I would not be interested in cleaning up, after the muskrat upset his tummy.
How many times have I instructed dog owners to say Drop It and trade for something instead of wrestling the object away from their dog's mouth? And, you can bet there was no way I was touching that muskrat! Many clients complain of sock stealing dogs, or shoes that have been carried across the lawn in a merry chase. What is a person to do? Trade for something better than what the dog has seized in his mouth, of course! But, what on earth would top a dead muskrat, likely acquired after a spirited battle? This was not a prize to be relinquished easily. What could I use to not only get Angus to drop the thing, but come into the house? The smelliest, most lucious temptation... I offered half a can of cat food, and it was no contest! Would this have worked, had we not done a ton of trades in the past? Likely not.
The lesson to be carried from this story? Commands need to be reinforced repeatedly, so that your dog reaches the point where his response to your request is automatic. There should be no time to consider whether or not the muskrat should be dropped. The words Drop It should mean the object is given up without hesitation. Once the vocabulary is in place, and the dog clearly understands the command, pracitise is required to keep the skills fresh.
For more detailed instruction about training your dog the command, Drop It, contact Ministik Hills Dog Training for Group Classes or Private Lessons.
Categories: Training "Tails"