Following on from a week spent with some TTouch practitioners, I thought I’d write a short blog on my opinion of the best training techniques to use for training your dog to canicross, bikejor or scoooter. I’ve been involved in the dog sports for a number of years now and it never fails to amaze me how people forget that if you want your dog to do something for you, you need to make it more fun, more rewarding and more exciting than anything else it might want to do.
For example, if you want your dog to run in front of you rather than to the side, stopping, sniffing and weeing on every patch of available grass, you need to make running more stimulating than the gratification dogs get from checking out and marking their environment. The easiest way to do this in most cases is to give them something to chase. Dogs love to chase things and it provides stimulation for both body (by the physical action of chasing) and mind (the focus on the subject being chased). Of course not all dogs will prioritise this over other more sedate rewards but in many cases it is a great way to encourage your dog to pull out front. You might choose to use another person or another dog, whichever spurs your dog on the most, however you want to be praising your dog when it does run out front, so that you are not reliant on this technique for very long.
Another example of how to motivate your dog is to take them somewhere new, where the sights and smells are totally different to your usual circuit. If you are constantly training over the same tracks then your dog will begin to find the route ‘boring’ and the distractions of smells will probably feature higher in your dogs’ preferences than exploring the area. How many of us go into ‘auto pilot’ when we are driving a regular trip in the car, getting distracted by things in the car rather than what’s going on outside and keeping focused on where we are going? By providing your dog with a variety of routes, you can utilise their natural instinct to rush about the unfamiliar territory and again by rewarding the behaviour, your dog will quickly learn that the action of running about gets positively reinforced and therefore will be quicker to display it next time out.
All this might sound obvious but the amount of times I have passed or been passed by teams when racing whose ‘drivers’ have been hollering at their dog/s to ‘encourage’ them. Unless you use this as a form of reward in your normal routines, I can’t see how continually shouting at your dog will ever consistently get you good results?! Your dog might respond to it but won’t be running faster because they want to please you, they will be running because they don’t want to be shouted at! Think of why personal training can work for you, usually not because you want to please your trainer by doing better, but to avoid being made to feel bad. Which approach do you want for your dog/s?
Most of the best canicrossers, bikejorers and dog scooterers I know will remain virtually silent unless conveying a command of some description. Of course there are times when vocal encouragement will work but this is usually in an upbeat tone designed to excite the dog, not an (often frustrated) ‘get on’ or similar vocalisation in an attempt to stop your dog losing focus when running.
Of course I am a fine one to talk about voice commands, as I find myself ‘chatting’ to my team throughout our races, but I tend to use the same tone I would use if I was just about to produce a tasty treat and only raise my voice if I deem it absolutely neccessary to get one of my dogs’ attention urgently, or to encourage an extra burst of speed at the end of a race. I’d like to think my dogs all love what we do, the very fact that they climb over each other and me to get their harnesses on, gives me a clear indication that they are keen to participate. If I felt I was putting more effort into getting them to run than in keeping up, I’d probably have a re-think about what I was doing with my training.
To conclude, whenever I’m asked about training for canicross, bikejor or scootering, my reply is usually to say keep it fun, focused (which often means short) and to reward your dog for doing what you want it to do. Positive training has proven to be the most effective because your dog will want to continue the behaviour rather than avoid a punishment.
For more information about running, biking or scootering with your dog please visit the website: http://www.k9trailtime.com