Saturday, 25 April 2009

Control Unleashed style classes

I came across Leslie McDevitt's amazing book "Control Unleashed" (or CU) last year and, like reading Pam Dennison's books,its been a life changing experience for me and hopefully my dogs too. CU is both a programme, a set of training games and a philosophy all in one. It seems to draw its roots from non-confrontational training principles that build communication and trust between dog and handler. One of the aspects that most attracted me was the idea of using what your dog wants to do in a constructive manner - the Premack principle made very obvious!

As an experiment myself and another trainer ( are running a set of classes based on the CU book and DVD's, and the underlying philosophy. Basically its for our own dogs who are at various stages, and also to help a lady with a challenging rescued collie boy. We've run two sessions now, one of the interesting things has been realising quite how far my fearful/reactive collie Finn has come. While Max and Mirri are fairly excited and can be a bit barky and unfocused, Finn is now working as the calm dog distraction for them!!!

So - week one we covered passive attention (massage/TTouch/breathing) while on a mat, a little bit of on leash walking using ring-gates (photos to come!) to provide a safe enclosed space within the class, and 'whip-lash' turn behaviours and re-orienting. We also began to teach the 'look-at-that' game which is essentially a cued visual targeting game which encourages the dog to look at an exciting or worrying stimulus, and then back to the handler.

The lovely thing is with having just the three and now four dogs in the class, there's plenty of space for everyone and much less of a tense atmosphere. Even 10 month old hyper-collie Max was able to chill out on his mat for a few minutes and by the end of class looked positively relaxed.

Week Two: we revised Look At That and taught it to Mirri - all the dogs were clearly engaging in the game and offering quick glances at each other *yay*. Of course there was plenty of mat-work and passive attention, but we also managed more active work too using the ring-gates again. We worked on on and off leash walking, re-orienting, targeting hand from a distance and then onto targeting the mat as prep for a 'send to mat' exercise. **I just love how the CU games essentially turn life into a series of targeting games!** W also worked on teaching leave. Now all the dogs in class know some version of leave, but I figured it was worth trying it Leslie's way :-) Following clicker type principles we are working on the behaviour before adding in any cues. Stages are below as from the book and DVD (this assumes the dog knows some version of doggie zen)

  • place hard treat on floor under shoe, wait for dog to stop digging under foot and mark/reward any other behaviour esp eye contact

  • place treat beside foot - if dog moves towards treat then cover quickly! as above

  • drop treat near/beside foot from very low height, cover with foot if needed.....

We're aiming to get to the stage where you can throw a handful of food and the dog simply looks up at you - then we'll add in the cue!

Lots more I could say but will leave you for now.

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