Imagine being able to take your dog to a park or playground… off-leash… and know without the shadow of a doubt that he won’t run away. And that he will listen to every command!
Now imagine that you take a tennis ball out of your pocket, and wave it in front of your dog’s field of vision. Your dog goes nuts at the thought of being able to chase his ball… which is his reason for existence!!! But instead of just throwing the ball, you speak the command, “Down!” and your dog immediately drops into the down position.
Now, imagine that you cock your arm back, like a baseball pitcher, and throw that tennis ball as hard as you can! As you see the ball fly through the air, you stop… and look down at your feet to see that your dog is STILL IN THE DOWN POSITION… eagerly waiting for you to give him his “release” command to go chase the ball.
With three words, “TAKE A BREAK,” your dog springs to his feet, and like a bullet… chases down the tennis ball and happily returns and drops it at your feet. After a few more throws, many of the people in the park are marveling at the wonderful response and attention your dog is giving you, in light of the tennis ball which obviously captures his dreams!
But you decide that simply having him lay down while you throw the ball is mere child’s play. So as an encore performance… You throw the ball and immediately let your dog chase it. But half way to the ball, you yell out the “down” command… and instead of continuing to chase the ball, your dog immediately drops down… 100 feet away from you! With another, “TAKE A BREAK” command, your dog is once again up and chasing the ball.He then brings it back and happily lays it at your feet for another throw.
How did I teach my dog to work with such speed and control?
Simple. It was just a matter of:
1.) Figuring out what I wanted to teach the dog.
2.) Deciding how to break up the exercise. (All complicated exercises, just like music, must be taught by first breaking them into smaller pieces.)
3.) Teaching the specific parts of the exercise.
4.) Reinforcing and proofing the exercise.
So, for this example, first I decided that I wanted my dog to hold (or go into) a down position, regardless of where the ball was or what he was doing. I began by teaching the dog a down-stay. Then I progressed to teaching the dog “off-leash” response.
Next, I combined the two and taught the dog to respond both at a distance, and also in light of my distraction, the tennis ball. And finally, I practiced the exercise again and again. But the key to doing this successfully is to have the right knowledge and to develop a high level of skill. Which comes from practice.