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Peek at the Trainer's Homework! #6

As your dog's training gets more advanced, you have to start worrying about things like "Will new training interfere with old training? Will this new behavior mess with something she's already good at?"

For example, one of my clients had a Labradoodle who was PERFECTLY trained to wait at curbs. No matter what else happened, the dog would never step off into a street. It was almost guide dog-level training around curbs.

When I went in to do some additional leash training with her (she still pulled on the leash quite a bit, even though she always stopped at curbs LOL!), one method that I do a LOT is work dogs off sidewalks. Sidewalks are terrible places to practice good leash walking. There's heavy scent distraction, and the dog understands the sidewalk as a "path" so there's no real incentive to slow down and see where you're going. You can't do any of the turn practices. And worst of all, if the dog pulls, even if you do a stop and reset, there are so many scent distractions that wherever the dog ends up, it can still sniff, and still end up getting reinforced for leash-pulling! Ugh! So if you live in a quiet neighborhood, a lot of leash-training can be done in the street. (Parking lots are another good choice. Anywhere flat, somewhat boring is a good choice.) This, however, directly interfered with her prior curb training. All along she'd been trained not to walk in the street, now we were going to walk in the street?

We eventually came to the conclusion that we would do the exercises on the sidewalk, regardless of the extra difficulty and probably longer training time. The owner was just too concerned about all of her hard work she'd put into curb training. That's an all right decision. As your dog starts getting more advanced, you find you have to make these decisions!

I thought about all of this with Halo's work on "targeting" this cookie jar. In the impulse control and delayed gratification advanced course we're doing, I'm still not entirely clear on what this exercise will be ultimately used for. I noticed that her "targeting" of the jar looks exactly like her "alert" to the Birch odor in K-9 Nosework. "Uh-oh," I thought, because for Nosework, she's taught to alert to the *birch* odor, and never ever alert to food. But now here she is in this class, alerting to food.

What are my choices?

I could skip the exercise. I could skip the entire class. I could try to shape some different target, such as that she hits the cookie jar with her foot instead of using her nose. But would that foot movement then transfer over to her Nosework, where they are not to use their feet? Ultimately, I made the decision to simply continue with the exercise and see where the training went. We're not doing much with Nosework these days anyway (our current focus is Rally) so if we do this cookie jar exercise for a few weeks, then abandon it entirely for a few months, then start up Nosework again, she may have entirely forgotten about it. 

Aren't these decisions hard? If you are stuck in hard training decisions with your advanced dogs, let me know! Sometimes two heads are better than one at puzzling this kind of thing out.

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