Abandonment Training

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Abandonment Training
While out on a walk you meet up with another owner coming towards you with her dog walking in front of her. Your dog’s attention focuses on the approaching dog and starts pulling forward. You notice his tail rising above his back, ears forward and his hair rises in two places- on the scruff and just in front of his tail. This is all too familiar. A scrap looms.
You know that you must take responsibility for your dog but what to do this time? Pulling back on the leash in the past has caused more frustration and aggression in your dog. Yelling has no effect. You are embarrassed and frustrated because, “here we go again” the walk is going to be spoilt and you have to fight your dog to avoid a dog fight. Does this sound familiar?
By the time most dog owners begin to realise that they cannot control their dog in these situations it is too late for punishment and the dog already has a bad name. Owners do not have the knowledge or the patience to train their dog to behave differently. Many do not have the time to join dog obedience clubs and the dog ends in a backyard unloved.
Most forms of aggression are fear based even in dominant dogs. A tight leash, the umbilical cord that connects with the owner, only serves to escalate what is called leash aggression. We need to find the trigger that caused the aggro – what happened during the moments before a dog snaps. A fight may start at home amongst your dogs or at the dog park where not all dogs are always well behaved. Some dogs like to pick on smaller dogs and others will fight to defend their territory. But what is to be done about the aggression displayed by so many dogs? Handlers spend much time telling their dog what NOT to do instead of teaching them what TO do.
Bad habits are hard to break and Desensitisation and counter-conditioning generally takes time. There is, however, another way worth trying – Abandonment training – a technique invented by Trish King, John Rogerson and John Fisher. It requires forming a new habit to prevent aggression escalation. The aim is to teach the dog that his owner is NOT going to back him up if he is going to want to fight another dog. By abandoning the dog his owner shows him that there is another option other than dominating or fighting. Teaching an alternative behaviour in which the dog responds to its owner’s actions may be a solution for many dog owners. Counter-conditioning forms port of this new habit and tasty treats are used in training.
Abandonment training depends on the dog accepting his owner as his leader and wants to be with him. Using the “Pushing” training technique is highly recommended (See article). The closer the bond between owner and dog the more likely the dog will ignore approaching dogs. The dog must believe that its owner is the pack leader.
Find it” is another exercise that has great bonding qualities between owner and dog. With your dog standing next to you and watching you, throw a treat a short distance into the grass and command, “Find it.” Most dogs will immediately pounce on the treat, gobble it up and turn to look at the owner who then has another treat ready in hand and the dog rushes over for the reward. After very few repeats the owner can start running away as soon as the dog tries to find the thrown treat. When the dog now turns to see a bigger distance between them he races back to the owner for praise and reward or having another treat lobbed to “Find.” When this exercise is repeated a number of times the dog will automatically sprint back to its owner. This exercise fits in nicely with abandonment training.
Training program
Choose a word, a cue (a hint) that will be used as a signal for the start of the abandonment exercise. At the very moment when you decide to run away from him (in the opposite direction to hide) you shout the cue word. I use “Hey” but “Stop it” “Oh, oh” “run” and other words can be used. “No” is not one of them because it has other connotations to its meaning.
Walk with your dog on leash watching his head and other body language very carefully. The moment he is distracted and looks away, shout “Hey” and throw the leash quite hard onto his back as you turn to run away. The dog will be startled, turn to follow and soon catch up. He is rewarded for this action with some of your very best treats and praise (Counter-conditioning). Repeat many times until the dog gets used to the sound of the cue, the falling leash, being abandoned and to run and find you. A knot 2 feet from the catch can be held in the left hand and thrown onto the dog so that the loop end can be kept in your right hand. Some handlers do not want their dogs to go off line. Practise this exercise until it becomes an automatic response. Call the dog to make sure he comes each time but keep running away.
Abandonment for real
The next step is to introduce a control dog some distance away next to his owner. Have an experienced trainer follow you with a long line held loosely that is attached to your dog. The instructor is there with a long line to prevent the dog from trying to attack the control dog. You both start moving forward towards the control dog and the moment the dog notices, growls or is aroused by the other dog you yell “Hey” throw your leash as before and run away for your dog. He will follow you and be given a very tasty treat. Lots of reinforcement, treats and praise is happily showered on the dog for rather following its owner and not getting involved with a fight.
In the beginning the cue can be given as soon as you lose your dog’s attention. However, you must be sure to know your dog’s precursors to aggression. (Tail up and over the back, raised hackles, staring, ears forward, growling etc.)
After a while the control dog is approached slowly and in most cases your dog will ignore him by walking past him and be treated and praised.
Different control dogs must be used in this training exercise, all assisted by a trainer walking nearby holding a loose security line. The owner’s confidence in the exercise and his dog has to be established before a trainer’s assistance will not be needed.
Successful use of this method depends on the following:
The dog must choose to be with its owner rather than wanting to fight another dog.
It must become a habit through regular training.
It is a proud moment indeed when you can walk your dog on a loose line past other dogs and your dog ignores them.

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