State of the Labrador

We are three weeks in! I’ve slacked in blogging the last couple of days due to pitiful excuses like “I have a newborn baby” and “I need sleep so I don’t zombie all day and make my poor innocent husband do the dishes”. But I am still working with Ranger! Here’s where we are at with a few of his behaviors.

Here, boy!

We have been practicing this over short distances in the house. Not what I prefer, but it’s freezing and muddy outside. Still, repetition is repetition, and if you practice a cue 5 times a day – for a recall this takes about oh, 30 seconds total – that is over 1800 repetitions a year! People build life-sized Death Stars out of tiny legos, and you build strong behaviors out of tiny repetitions.

Leash Walking

Big strides here! We did another couple of sessions and have gotten outside with the halter working on head-up and left side walking. Here’s a little gallery of the latest efforts:

We are working in short sessions in a low-distraction environment and I am feeding treats at a very high rate to reinforce the attentive left-side behavior. The halter really is a back-up for training and not a tool to control your dog with force; Ranger accidentally reached the end of the leash maybe once in our session.

For left-side walking, I usually start by clicking and treating for two things – walking at the left side (duh) and also responding to a turn. I’ll try to get a video later, but using turns instead of just going straight ahead makes the behavior fun for the dog and also teaches the dog to pay attention to you and follow you instead of focusing on just moving forward.

Making the behavior fun in and of itself is really vital for getting those happy tail wags you see. Leash walking should be exciting and positive, not the endless repetition of yanking and “HEEL!” that more traditional methods offer.

I had a couple of issues with Ranger nipping and realized I needed to get the treat to him a little faster and a little more directly – if you are holding a treat an inch above where a dog can reach of course he has to reach up to grab it! Once I corrected my training behavior, his nipping stopped. It’s not always the dog’s fault!


Ranger is doing great with this and will respond to either a hand signal or the word. He responds quickly and performs quickly. No complaints!


So proud of Ranger’s new Drop behavior! This is the one that brought him over to being a true “clicker dog”, I think. We need to work on getting this truly under stimulus control, but right now it is so cute when he just throws behaviors at me, including his excited “Drop”, instead of defaulting to “I’m going to sit and stare at your eyeballs until they melt”.


Surprise!  I haven’t posted about this one yet, but Ranger is learning to Wait for a treat while it is on his paw. Is this on our list of Really Important things? No. Is it super fun to train and makes me giggle? Yes.

Really though, this is the first one in the “I am the pathway to all things good” mindset that I am going to instill in him. My Collie will come when called off of a rabbit; when I worked at PetSmart back in the day I could put a treat on each of her paws, put her in a down stay in the entry way with people and dogs walking by, walk around the entire store, and come back and release her to eat her treats. All of this trained without force. I’ll probably do a whole post on this soon, so I’ll just leave that concept as a teaser for now.

Kitchen of Doom

Ranger is now tentatively eating his food from the middle of the kitchen.

I have also done a little bit of active training, rewarding him for stepping into the kitchen.

Additionally, rather than just put his bowl in the kitchen, sometimes I make a little Hansel and Gretel path for him to reward himself for walking into the kitchen.

This really is good because once the baby is a toddler, having the kitchen as a potential escape route from a stressful interaction will be a great option for Ranger to use.

We really haven’t done so much Grasshoppering food bowl work yet because I have been managing the feedings, so we’ll have to address that a little later.

Kids and Dogs

I’m going to start letting the kids work with Ranger a little more now that his behaviors are more consistent. Since the kids are novices, I prefer to train the behaviors up myself for efficiency and to make sure Ranger is actually learning what I want him to.  It is much, much easier to teach a young child a single cue and then give them the criteria on when to click than to try to have them shape an entire behavior from scratch, or work a giant slobbery mouthy jumpy dog with a lure. So once we have the cues down, we will start to generalize those out to all the members of the family instead of just me.

I may go ahead and give my 9 year old a trick to try and shape since completely fuddling a random behavior like “spin in a circle” is going to have less impact on Ranger’s training progress than accidentally teaching him that “Heel” means “sniff the grass and you get a cookie!” There definitely is a trade-off between training the humans and training the canine, and for right now, my primary focus is getting the canine well-behaved and integrated.

In Summary…

I am pretty happy with where we are just a few weeks in! Over the next three weeks, we’re going to keep strengthening and generalizing Ranger’s current behaviors and add on some other foundation behaviors like a strong Stay and Go to Bed.  I’ll also come back to his “problem” behaviors and, without the huge individual write-up this time, list the steps I have chosen to take to solve each one.

That’s all for now!



  1. Mary @ Stale Cheerios · November 27, 2014

    Thanks for linking to my stimulus control article!

    Just found your blog — and am looking forward to reading more about you adventures with Ranger.

    By the way, I absolutely loved this quote:
    “People build life-sized Death Stars out of tiny legos, and you build strong behaviors out of tiny repetitions.”
    I think that says it exactly, but it also made me laugh. 🙂


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