The Power to Devour - Life Skills
Building on the lessons of the previous weeks, we will look at how to make sure that our dogs are safe out, even in bait rich environments.
Particularly for us on the Central Coast of NSW, a vibrant holiday destination which booms during the peak holiday periods, our dogs will always find something of interest that is not to their benefit.
We have unpacked a very broad topic in a short space of time and learned how to make better decisions on how to feed our dogs. We have also learned to be aware of common dangers that abound in our homes and can be readily found in our neighbourhoods. The purpose of this last week’s instalment on the current series will see us teaching our dogs to leave items of interest where they are.
Your dog’s primary sense is their nose. With their nose they can reach back in time and find where items have been and how long ago. It really is a great organ and its functions are incredibly powerful, especially compared to our nose. If a dog detects a scent that they have not previously encountered they will spend time investigating what that item is. If and when they can reach that item they will involve their other senses, sight, touch and taste. These are generally employed in that order.
The Hunting Sequence Summarised
We will use this sequencing to our advantage, to be able to put our dog in a place to succeed rather than learn from their mistakes. But first we should look at why this is important.
You see, this sequence is very specific to how a dog determines if something is dangerous or safe. First, the item is detected with the nose. The nose picks up scent and allows the dog to get closer to the item, the closer a dog gets the more intense the scent. The weaker parts of the scent become more apparent the closer a dog gets which allow the dog to build a better picture of what is about to be found. This is similar to how we taste, a connoisseur can detect different flavours in their foods in much the same way.
When the dog has not been deterred by unsavoury scents they will be close enough to see the item, this is the first time the dog can actually lay their eyes on the item. Now they can determine if they have come across this type of item before. You see items can be covered in other items scent which would confuse our dogs. You can read more about this in the Bait and Treat article of this series.
Assuming the dog has a favourable or neutral image of the item they will touch it to see, well, what it feels like. Is it edible or not, is it sharp, pointy or rounded, is it soft or hard? This is often a very quick test.
Now that the item has been deemed as fit for the taste test, it will be tasted, the tongue comes out and the tip of the tongue will gently touch the item. Your dog is determining whether this is a noxious, bad tasting or tasty item. Only your dog knows what they like and dislike, never forget, they will eat socks, underwear and animal faeces, they’re sense of what is good and bad is different to ours.
Which leads us to the last part of the sequence, consumption! Your dog has gone through the sequence without you even knowing it and boom! The item is gone…and here comes the choking, the belly pain, the cramps, the runs, the pain and suffering, the vet etc.
Why go into this much detail? Simple, your dog has around 15000 years of selectively bred instinct in their brain. What is written above is a pretty decent explanation of how your dog scavenges. Scavenging is a survival instinct. It is a reflex action which, in our modern society and artificial environment requires monitoring and re-training. A good analogy is the potty training of a toddler. The toddler has learned to poop their nappy, all of a sudden they are to go to the toilet in a specific place. When they have an accident, it is not naughty, it’s not rebellion and it’s certainly not dominance, its habit. A habit that we need to monitor and train. The same goes for our four legged mates. But instead of 2 years of habit, we need to monitor and train against 15000 years of habit.
In summary we have Nose, Eyes, Tongue and Stomach.
I hope that this puts you in a better place to understand old Yorkie at your feet.
Teaching your dog to not eat when out
In order to teach your dog to not eat off the ground take them to a place where they don’t normally eat. Make sure that you have plenty of room, there is little to nothing going on around you and you can walk a figure 8 pattern with your dog running circles around you to the extent of the lead.
Take some food items such as fried chicken and pizza or whatever you would find on the streets around you. Place these two items about 4-5m apart from each other.
Approach the first item with the dog on your left and the food drop on your right. Sit your dog and wait for a second. Then begin a figure 8 pattern to the other food drop. This time the dog will be closer to the food and you will be on the outside. Again sit your dog for a second. Then move anticlockwise around the food drop and continue your figure 8 pattern. Do 6 figure 8 patterns in one session.
But my dog is going to go for the food, otherwise I wouldn’t be trying this! I know, bear with me.
We recall the Nose, Eyes, Tongue and Stomach sequence right?
As soon as you see your dog start to sniff towards the food drop, say “Wrong” (in a neutral tone, this is not punishment) and entice your dog away from the food and toward you with something the dog does like, a ball, a favourite treat, whatever that known reliable thing is.
A truly committed dog will not be enticed away, when do they ever get fried chicken or pizza for crying out loud? This stuff is awesome! The dog is on a lead, for exactly this purpose, keep walking away until they follow you, then go nuts.
As soon as the dog approaches you say “Good”, when they get to you say “Good”, have them sit then say “Yes” and give them the treat that they go ape for. Then restart the exercise.
What you will find is that as you start out, you will catch them later in the sequence, the dog is born an expert scavenger, they don’t get to suckle if they are not. You however have to learn to read your dog. Your timing will improve with each repetition.
So here’s the thing, will your dog ever be 100% reliable? I hope not, if they are, most likely the joy of life has been squeezed out of them. You will need to be constantly vigilant and take action as required. Fortunately for you the time you invest in training and learning your dog will help you, as well your superior height and vision will allow you to find items that your dog may not see until they are a few feet away.
The “Out” command
What about getting the dog to spit out what they have in their mouth? This is also very easy and quickly done. Grab yourself a toy the dog likes that you can hold securely in two hands. Engage in a brief game of Tug with them, clamp the toy between your knees and keep it steady and still.
Your dog will first try to get a better grip, then realise that this part of the game sucks. They will let go eventually. As soon as the dog lets go offer the tug again repeat the process. Continue to do this 10 times over a period of a couple of sessions. Your dog will very quickly let go of the toy when its between your knees. Now you can say “Out”, then put the toy between your knees and get the same response. Old doggie spits the toy out, waiting with baited breath for the game to start again.
Just like before, repeat this 10 times over a few sessions and you will then notice that your dog is reliably complying with your command of “Out” before the toy gets to your knees.
From here you will give the dog something to hold, then say “Out” and reach for whatever it is that they are holding. They will let it go after, you guessed it a few sessions. When you are given the item, immediately present a reward to your dog. This will motivate them to give up the object much faster.
The next step is to test your dog. Place some item you know they will pick up on the ground at home, give the command “Out” and allow a couple seconds for your dog to respond. They should drop the item. Have their favourite reward handy because this is the big one!
If they do not let go of the item, say “Wrong” and call them to you and re-issue the command “Out” and put your hands out to receive the item. Again, make sure you have a good solid reward that your dog will go ape for handy.
The wrap up
There we have it Barefoot Packers!!!!!
We have unpacked nutrition in a pretty holistic fashion. We have educated ourselves on how to make decisions based on our circumstances and the needs of our pets. Also, we have learned about how our dogs can be tricked into eating poisonous substances and how to avoid and manage that situation.
Barefoot Paws wishes you all the best of fortune in trying out the above training tips and we encourage you to come back to us with any questions you have. Better yet, come back with some feedback on how you went training and changing your dog’s diet!
See you at the lamppost soon