Initially, dogs do not like to be stopped.
They are ‘action fanatics’ and always want to be on the move.
Stopping is not fun when you want to keep going!
Associating stopping with pleasure
We need to change the dog’s perception of stopping, to associate it with pleasure. This is likely to be far more effective, in the long run, than simply punishing the dog for ‘failing to stop’.
Your objective is a dog which believes that whenever he hears the stop whistle, stopping to look at you is the most pleasurable option.
Later on in training it is somewhat easier to reward the stop whistle as we incorporate it into our retrieving routines and the dog learns that the stop is a predictor of the chance to retrieve. At this early stage we need to make a conscious effort to make the stop whistle pleasurable to the dog as often as we can.
Two different ways
There are two ways at this point to help you make the stop whistle a Good Thing. One is to condition the sound of the whistle to be associated with something that the dog enjoys, the other is to rewarding the stop very generously with something that the dog finds valuable.
For many dogs, the most effective reward during these early ‘at heel’ stops, is likely to be food.
Conditioning the whistle
Some of you will already be incorporating a Classical Conditioning technique of associating the stop whistle with pleasurable events, into your training.[wp_ad_camp_1]If you are not already doing this, you can begin now.
The object is to blow the stop whistle just before something great happens.
The dog must already be sitting before you do this, so that the whistle is not only associated with the fun event, but also with the sitting position.
The regular association of these things (whistle, sit, pleasure) forms a strong link in the dog’s brain.
Examples of when you can blow the whistle in this way are:
- When the dog is seated on the stay and you are some distance away. Blow the whistle just before you commence walking back towards the dog. Give lots of praise when you arrive (never blow the whistle first if you are approaching the dog in a grumpy way).
- When the dog is seated and you are about to throw out some dummies. Blow the whistle just before you throw each dummy.
Rewarding the stop
Even if you have never before used food in training, this early stop whistle training may be a procedure where your dog will benefit from, and make better progress with, food rewards.
Many trainers are very reluctant to use food and fear that they are ‘bribing’ the dog, or in some way diminishing their influence over him. They also fear that they will be stuck using food for ever.
These concerns are unfounded.
Food used as a reward for good behaviour is not a bribe, and is an effective way of progressing training when a dog is struggling or unsure. It can easily be phased out as training progresses and far better rewards such as retrieving and hunting are incorporated into training.
Remember to use a reward marker
If you do decide to use food, remember to give the dog a marker to let him know exactly what you are rewarding him for. If you feed him when you return to him he knows that you approve of him remaining in one place whilst you were gone, which is fine, but this will not help him to know that you want him to sit ‘smartly’ immediately the whistle is blown.
To help him understand that you want an instant ‘drop’ into the sitting position, you need to mark the successful drop with a word that your dog associates with a reward. ‘Yes’, or ‘Good’, will do fine. Say the word the instant the dog sits, then return and reward him.
A good marker word is a useful tool, and you will give your marker word a little power boost, if you give the dog a few treats just before the session starts, using the marker word each time you offer a treat.
“Making the stop whistle a good thing” is an excerpt from “Passing Grade Three” available from the Gundog Club bookshop
If you enjoy my articles, you might like my new book: The Happy Puppy Handbook – a definitive guide to early puppy care and training.