As a dog trainer, I have seen dogs of every skill and ability level, as well as dogs of all intelligence levels. Some that took just a few days to teach whistle stops, and some that took a month and a half to learn “hold”. Each dog brings new challenges, and that is something every trainer has to be prepared for.
I currently have a dog that I am training named Gator. He is a sweet, well mannered young male black Lab, and he has been a joy to work with. He has great obedience; he walks at heel perfectly, sits when I stop, comes to heel when called, and has rock solid steadiness.
Then we get to force fetch. His hold work was great, I mean great on the table! We had no problems whatsoever. Then we moved to the ground, which, judging by the table work, was going to be a breeze. But, we all know how things go when we predict them to be easy, and I knew better than to believe it would be so easy!
The first obstacle was having him hold it while seated next to me, and for whatever reason, he did not want to do that. But we got over it relatively fast, in 3-4 days. Then came the biggest hurdle of all, thus far. The walking hold. This is the hardest part of training any dog, and my least favorite. You have to have the dog hold it, then start to walk at heel, and immediately the dog will drop the bumper to start walking at heel, because for whatever reason, it goes against the dog’s mentality to do two commands at once, Hold AND Heel. Most will walk perfectly at heel, and hold rock solid while seated, but you go to put the two together and it rarely goes very smooth.
After they drop it comes the “fun” part, you have to pick up the bumper, stick it back in the dog’s mouth, and hold it in there while you pull the dog in a heel position. After you have gone a short, ways, like five or six steps, you stop, take the bumper, and praise the dog. This usually takes a week or so for the dog to finally buy into the hold, and understand what you are asking of them.
Gator was very typical in this manner, but he was learning something I did not realize I was teaching him. When I am holding the bumper and the dog and making him carry it in a heeling position, I always make him go five or six steps. That has always been my method. This has worked with every dog I have trained over the years with no issue. That is until Gator!
Once Gator figured out carrying at heel, I thought we had this obstacle conquered, until we went about six steps and he quickly sat down!! He was still holding just fine, but I had inadvertently taught him that we only carry for six steps then we are done!
Looking back, it makes sense from his perspective. I have trained tons of dogs, and he is the first one to ever see the hold work this way. It didn’t take too long to fix this problem, making him carry it further and not sit down when he tried to sit, and it taught me something important going forward. Changing up the training routine can be very beneficial. Dogs can figure out your patterns before you realize you have patterns, and know what you are going to do before you do it!
Now I vary the distance that I require them to carry the bumper at heel. Sometimes it is six steps and sometimes it is 10 or 15. The main thing is for them to watch you and follow your commands, and not just go on their own and stop when they think they should be done!