Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Walking my dog on the treadmill

Every once in a while when training a dog, you have those breakthrough moments that just leave your jaw on the floor while you stare in amazement at your dog.
Last night, I had one of the those moments.
I got my dog to walk on the treadmill last night — I couldn’t have been more amazed.
Cesar Millan fans out there know what it looks like when he does it. The dog is held against his will on the treadmill, all four legs splayed out and trying with all his might to get off what must be the strangest moving floor the dog has ever seen.
Eventually, the dog gives up his struggle and learns that if he just walks, the strange moving floor isn’t so bad after all.
With my fearful but incredibly strong pit bull mix, I thought the treadmill was going to be one of the most daunting tasks I’d ever done. I figured, without a doubt, that both my husband and I would be getting one heck of a workout on the night we decided to teach Sensi about the treadmill. All things considered, I was not looking forward to it.
So, you can imagine my surprise when Sensi — encouraged by food — simply walked on the treadmill like it was no big deal.
If there was ever a case in point for positive reward training, this is it.
I’m going to explain how I did it over the course of a few blog entries.
In this blog, I’ll give some background and the basics.

I set a goal for 2010 of having Sensi run on the treadmill while I shower in the morning and also run on the treadmill for 10 or 15 minutes before dinner each night. By the time this year draws to a close, I want to have accomplished that.

In January, I began exposing Sensi to the treadmill. I’d put pieces of kibble on the treadmill — while it was off, of course — and encourage him to eat the kibble from the surface of the treadmill. I gradually moved the kibble toward the front of the treadmill so that eventually, all four paws had to be on the treadmill in order for him to reach the kibble.
We did that daily.
Then, I began running on the treadmill. I kept Sensi in the room with me — that way, he got exposure and became desensitized to the sounds the treadmill makes. This also allowed for me to make some important rules about the treadmill. For instance, in the beginning, he thought it might be fun to try and bite at the treadmill’s surface while it turned — perhaps an attempt to stop its continuous loop. I scolded him for behaviors like that and, when he showed interest in joining me on the treadmill, I rewarded him. (I kept treats at my disposable in the treadmill’s cupholder, by the way). I also rewarded him for sitting nicely beside the treadmill, because I liked that behavior too.

Read more tomorrow.

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