I recently finished a private dog training seminar March 6th-March 11th 2014 in Little Rock, Arkansas. Well, it technically wasn’t “in” Little Rock; however, that is the closest noteworthy city that many people would recognize. The seminar was actually in a small town (population 6,000) named, “Morrilton.”
I landed in Little Rock on the 6th, got a rental, put in the address to my hotel (Holiday Inn in Morrilton) and started my commute there. Morrilton was located about 45 minutes from Little Rock, it was a nice easy drive with minimal traffic. Arrived at the hotel, unpacked, checked emails, returned calls, and just got settled in. In the evening, I decided to travel outside of the hotel and see what the “big ol” town of Morrilton had to offer! There wasn’t too much, a Sonic, McDonalds, Pizza Hut, Subway, and a couple other small places! However, there was a place called, “Colton’s” that really caught my eye (western-looking building with a big flashy sign). I went inside Colton’s had a steak and a beer, I remember everyone was looking at me as I walked in; essentially, they could tell that I was “the strange new guy in-town.” I finished up my meal, headed back to the hotel, and prepped for the next 5 days ahead.
I generally always start my seminars at 9am, that’s just a great that that I like to start (for no specific reason, really). This private obedience seminar was for a great couple named David and Kim, they had a few dogs; however, they really wanted me to focus on their dog “Copper.”
I arrived at the address at 9am on the dot. The house was down a country road surrounded by trees and not too much around, it reminded me of where I grew up in Urbana, Ohio. As I pulled into the driveway, I was greeted out in the driveway by a barking German Shepherd; however, I could tell he was friendly by his body posture. Admittedly, in my head, I immediately smiled because I knew that I was going to have an easy time working this young, high-energy, happy-go-lucky, and excited German Shepherd for the next 5 days! I mean, we train about 15-20 German Shepherds per week at my dog training facility in Northern Virginia, so no challenge to me. As I sat in my rental car for a few moments gathering up my things , a woman knocked on my window, so I naturally rolled it down and she said, “Hey Nick! Welcome! I’m Kim!” So, I said hello and thanks for having me! Then Kim said, “This is our neighbor’s driveway, you have to back-up and pull back into our driveway.” Apparently, while taking in the secludedness, I missed the fork in the driveway.
I get to the correct driveway, but I notice the German Shepherd is still in the driveway I was originally in, so I say, “I love German Shepherds, we work with a ton of them on a daily basis!” Kim replies, “Oh yeh, that’s the neighbor’s dog, she’s always out there.” Kim says, “Copper is in the backyard, do you want me to grab him?” I told her no, that I wanted to explain the training system, agenda, and have her to practice the techniques before we actually pulled Copper out. So, I said, “What breed is Copper (again, originally thought he was the young/high energy German Shepherd)?” She said, “Copper is a 6-year old Basset Hound who has some aggression issues.” In my mind, I knew things weren’t going to be quite as simple as I had originally thought 5 minutes ago! I just went from a young, high energy and playful German Shepherd, to an older, slow moving, aggression issues Basset Hound! Out of the thousands and thousands of dogs trained at my dog training facility in Northern Virginia, I can recall training one (literally) Basset Hound.
There is nothing wrong with Basset Hounds, they are great dogs! However, they are NOT known for being dogs that are traditionally good in obedience! I would highly encourage you to YouTube “Basset Hounds in Obedience,” you will literally not find ONE video of a Basset Hound outside, off leash, and performing obedience (literally, I could not find ONE). There is a very good reason, for this, as well. Now, with that said, these amazing people flew me all the way to Arkansas to make their 6-year old Basset Hound amazing in off leash obedience, IN FIVE DAYS!! Keep in mind, this is a feat that most do not achieve in a lifetime (hence why there are ZERO YouTube videos of this) and I have FIVE DAYS to make it happen. Naturally, I did not let Kim or David know my internal stress and concern, I just knew that I had to be ready for long days, a lot of explaining, and a lot of working with Copper.
So, I finally sat down at the table with Kim and David, Kim had her notebook and pen ready, which was great! I told her that she would be taking pages upon pages of notes while I was here. I explained my training system, why it works, how it works, what her and David will see, and how the day 1 training program would go. Essentially, I told them my game plan for the day was to give Copper the concept and fundamentals of the come, sit, place, and not getting up until he was released (with “break”).
I explained the system to Kim and had her practice, using myself “as the dog,” initially. This is a technique I often times use, I will have the owner hold the leash, and I will put myself at the other end of the leash. This is a very effective tool in getting the owner to get a grasp of the concept (muscle memory), before we add the dog into the equation. My whole thought process is, “If they do not do well managing the leash with me at the end, then they definitely are not ready to work the dog.” Within about 30 minutes, Kim had the basic technique down for the come, sit, and break. She was using the remote and the leash (with me at the end) like a seasoned veteran!
I asked Kim if she wanted a break before we actually started to work with Copper, she simply replied, “Nope, let’s keep it going while I’m doing well with this stuff.” I laughed and told her to go bring in Copper, this would be my first time ever actually meeting him.
Kim leaves for a few moments and comes back with 6-year old Basset Hound, Copper. I asked her to show me the aggression issues she had with with and she showed me that anytime she touched his feet/paws, he would growl and try to bite her. The first thought that ran through my head was, “teaching this guy the down command is going to be fun (sarcasm)!”
As in my 500+ before/after videos on Youtube, I said, “Okay, show me what Copper does NOW.” She told Copper to come a few times and he came eventually, she told him to sit, and he sit for about 1 nanosecond and got right back up and took off again. Pretty much the scenario I see countless times per week at my dog training facility in Northern Virginia. Kim said, “Yep, that’s about it,” and we all laughed. Keep in mind, this was also INSIDE, they fortunately had a nice little industrial building that was wide open, perfect for teaching Copper indoors.
So, I greeted Copper, pet him, played with him a bit and got him warmed up to me. I slapped the leash on Copper and explained to Kim and David step-by-step exactly what they were going to see happen. I usually go in-detail telling them what’s going to happen, how the dog will mess it up, how I will correct it, etc. I generally explain ALL of this before I actually work the dog, this way the owner doesn’t have any surprises. I started working Copper on the basics of come, sit, and break. Naturally, he fought the “come” for about 20 minutes, and his sit was surprisingly decent; however, he had MAJOR stability issues. Just like the “demo” that Kim had given me, he did a “touch-and-go” type of sit; meaning, as soon as his butt would hit the ground, he was back up and ready to take off again. Within about 1 hour, I had his come and sit reliable (indoors still) and his stability was getting much better. Within about 2 hours (including a lot of breaks), I was about to get his his stability to the point where I could sit him, walk around the room, move about 25-30 feet away, and he was not getting up until I released him (with “break”).
Once I saw that Copper had the foundation of the come, sit, and break down, I decided to cut him for about an hour break. I instructed Kim and David to just let Copper relax and not do ANYTHING with him while I was gone. During this time, i went to my favorite quick place in small-town Morrilton to grab some lunch, Sonic!
Once I returned, I had them bring Copper back to the building we were working in, once again worked him for about 30-45 minutes on come, sit, and break. He picked it back up fairly quickly, breaking the sit command less and less as the training when on. Copper’s previous “touch and go” sit was actually starting to become stable about 80% of the time.
At this point, I thought it was time for Kim to start working Copper on the routine, so while Copper was taking a break, I once again attached the leash to myself and had Kim go through the entire routine, replicating the fact that I was Copper. After about another 10-15 of this, I decided to let Kim actually do it with Copper at the end. At my Off Leash K9 Training center in Northern Virginia, I say daily, “Watching me do this is so much easier than actually doing it.” A lot of people are like, “yeh, whatever” and then they quickly learn how right I am.
The time had come, Kim was about to make her training debut. She had a few hiccups at the beginning, but with a few adjustments she quickly caught on, adapted, and had it going smooth. She was doing so well, I told Kim to start progressing his extended sit; meaning, start getting even further away, open doors, make some noise, etc. We did this for about 2 more hours, giving Copper plenty of breaks, praise, and water throughout this timeframe. David was the “unofficial/official” photographer for the event, I say “official” because he had an awesome camera and actually had a lot of photography knowledge.
At this point, Copper’s come, sit, and extended sit was starting to look like he had done of it for a week, when really it had only been about 4 hours. So, once again, I decided to give Copper a solid 30 minute break. During Copper’s break, I sat down with Kim and her notepad and explained the “place” command to her. I explained in detail how I was going to teach it, how he could/would mess it up, how to correct it, and the whole “in’s/out’s” of place. My personal daily object for the day was to get Copper’s come and sit pretty solid (which I already achieved) and then give him the foundation of the “place” command before we ended day 1.
Once again, we pulled Copper back out and I went right into explaining to Kim the place command, so now she could actually “see” what I just spent 30 minutes explaining to her. Once she understood the concepts, I went to work with Copper. Fortunately, Kim and David had place cots just like the ones we use at our dog training center in Northern Virginia, so it worked out perfect. Within about 45 minutes, I had Copper placing on two of the cots on command with very good stability. Again, I gave Copper a break and explained to Kim that now we were going to teach him a new object. As I looked around their storage, I found a big grey tupperware storage container that they said I could use. It was perfect to help progress Copper’s place to something higher, skinnier, and completely different than the surfaces he just learned. The place cots are low to the ground and textured, so it’s very easy for a dog to just walk onto them; however, the container was high and plastic, so they actually have to jump and ensure they do not slide off.
I started working Copper on the tupperware container which he unarguable struggled on for about 15 minutes; however, within a short amount of time was running and jumping on it like a seasoned pro.
Next, we started to work transitioning from place-to-place; meaning, I place him on one object, walk about 20-30 feet away and place him straight to another object. Essentially, Copper has to leave the current object he is on and come running to jump on the next object (with no break in-between). Copper “really” struggled with this concept and took longer to get this concept down than most. He would just try to run and sit on the closest thing to him, verse actually paying attention and coming and sitting on the cot that we were pointing to. It’s fairly common for a lot of dogs to do that for a few minutes; however, it took him a longer to get this concept.
I am always aware of the fact that he has been “working” for about 7 hours now (with breaks mixed in) which is an insane amount of work for ANY dog, let alone a 6-year old Basset Hound who hasn’t done anything his whole life prior to this. So, I told Kim and David, “As soon as Copper does a transition perfect once, I will let him call it a day.” Eventually, Copper did a perfect transition from place-to-place, and we ended the day. Again, I ensured I told Kim and David not to do anything with Copper for the rest of the night.
Day 1 Results: Come, Sit, Place, and Stability: Very Solid Transitioning from Place-To-Place: Needs More Work.
I arrived at 9am, as I always do when doing seminars. Kim and David were quick to tell me that Copper slept wonderful and they didn’t see too much activity from him after I had left. We got Copper all setup and took him out to the “training center.” I did about a 1 hour recap on come, sit, and place. Copper did wonderfully well, it was a huge improvement from where we ended the day before. We all joked, “I guess Copper had time to sleep on it and let it all soak in.” We gave Copper a break, and then I had Kim do another hour on come, sit, place, and transitioning from place-to-place. Again, he did amazingly well, I think him sleeping through the night truly helped it all soak in.
After Kim did her hour, we gave Copper a 45 minute break, and I took that time to explain heeling. How it works, all the ways the dogs can mess it up, how to correct certain issues, leash positioning, dog positioning, fundamentals of a good heel, etc. Again, Kim was taking a few pages of notes, as I explained to her, “Heel is one of the hardest commands for an owner to master, because there are SO many variables.” Once I got it all explained, we took Copper out to a 100+ yard road right in front of their house and I asked Kim to show me how Copper’s current heeling was. Kim and David laughed at this request and said, “it’s non-existent, but we will show you.” Just as they claimed, Copper was everywhere on the end of the leash.
So, I started working the heel with Copper while simultaneously explaining everything to Kim and David as I worked Copper. Surprisingly, Copper picked up heeling very fast! I think he was trying to make up for his slower than normal time of learning place-to-place transitions! Within about 30 minutes, I had Copper on leash heeling and looking like he had done it his whole life. If the average dog owner had seen us, they surely would have been jealous of our heeling. I continued to work Copper for a solid hour as I explained to Kim and David the essentials of the heeling process. After this, I gave Copper a break.
Once again, I let Kim take the reigns and I had Kim working Copper on heel for about another hour. Kim did a pretty good job on the heel and surprisingly didn’t mess things up as much as the average owner does. So, heel was a win-win for me! Copper did better than an average dog AND Kim did better than an average owner.
We gave Copper (and Kim) a break for another 30-45 minutes. Then, we brought the place cots outside, and worked Copper on place and transitions to place outside and for the first time, off leash. This was a great success for us all to see, Copper was officially outside, off leash, and placing. We did a decent amount of placing, some more heeling, and some more transitions, just to really fine-tune and solidify all of his commands, thus far.
We ended the day on letting Copper run out into the field and start sniffing around (getting the hound on a scent), and the working his recall (“come”) while he got on a scent. As we did this drill, Copper was getting faster and faster at the recall, until he was immediately turning and running on the first command.
Based off all of this great success for the day, we ended day 2.
As we always do, we spent about the first 2 hours just recapping everything he had learned, thus far. We had him outside, off leash, coming, sitting, downing, and placing. Then, I spent about another 45 minutes showing and teaching Kim and David how to transition Copper from on leash heeling to OFF leash heeling. It’s about 80% the same; however, there are some things that “you” (the handler) have to do differently when transitioning to an off leash heel.
I had Kim to off leash heel Copper for about 45 minutes, and they both did wonderfully well! At this point, I decided to give Copper a decent break.
The rest of the day is the time that I knew was going to be the roughest for my entire 5-day training seminar! This afternoon was the time that I knew I had to teach Copper down and extended down! Remember, Copper is VERY aggressive when touching his feet/paws; unfortunately, this is one of the most effective and easiest ways to teach the dog the “down” command. Kim had told me that they could never get him to go down, because he would “Go Kujo and try to rip me apart.” So, even in knowing this, I took my risk (unmuzzled) and confirmed what Kim said, he definitely “went Kujo” when I tried to grab his feet. Fortunately, I have dealt with thousands of dogs (many trying to bite me); therefore, I was able to be quicker than him and avoid being bitten. I took my risk once, confirmed her story, barely escaped a bite, and now it was time to be smart and use a muzzle.
So, I took about 30 minutes explaining the down process: how it worked, why it worked, how it looked, and the things they would see. Then, I started Copper on the down, and he was a FIGHTER! He was growling, going crazy, jumping up at me, trying to bite my hands, and definitely “going Kujo.” Had Copper not been muzzled, it wouldn’t have turned out well for me, he goes nuts. So, I spent about 20 minutes in a wrestling match with Copper, trying to control this raging dog. Finally, I wore him down and he started losing some of his “fight energy.” As soon as I would get him into the down, I would “claim it” (“down,” good boy), release him, and then praise him.
I explained to Kim and David that my calm and praising demeanor was helping him calm down; generally, when the dogs get all crazy like that, it affects the emotions of the owner (or trainer). It’s very important that you stay calm, calm tone of voice, and still give them plenty of praise! You cannot let their negative energy and stress affect yours, or it just heightens theirs.
Within about 45 minutes, I had Copper going into the “down” position on command, UNMUZZLED. Due to the amount of energy and fight that Copper put out, I told Kim and David that we were going to give him a 30-40 minute break; truthfully, I needed a break, as well!
We returned from break, got Copper back out, and then we started working on his extended down. Again, Copper surprisingly picked up on this very quick! Many dogs have a difficult time downing from a distance, almost every dog in the world if you sit them 20 feet away and say “down,” they naturally want to come to you first. So, when we do an extended down lesson, we are teaching the dog to drop right where they are, despite how far away we are. Within about 45 minutes, I had Copper downing from across their entire building (about 40-50 feet).
Again, I think Copper was being nice to me and making up for his “down” being so rough! Remember, he was harder than average on place, but better than average on heel! Now he was much harder than average on down, but much better than average on extended down! Copper was truly keeping his training with me fair and balanced, lol!
Once Copper was doing the length of their building on a consistent basis (about 45 minutes in), I decided to give him another 30 minute break.
We came back from the break, and I decided to pull Copper outside (the long road where we were working the “heel” and “place” earlier). We started working his extended down, outside and off leash. Since the road was over 120+ yards long, we could get much further than we were able to get inside their building. Also, many people do not realize it; however, you have to teach dogs in multiple environments. If you only train your dog indoors, they are more than likely not going to do it well outside in a different environment; therefore, this was another driving factor for me to take him outside.
I started Copper off only about 15-20 feet away (closer since we changed environment) and started working his extended down, within about 10 minutes he was doing it outside just as great as he was inside. So, the next natural progression is to keep getting further and further away. After a lot of running up and down the road to correct him for messing up, I had Copper consistently downing from over 75 yards away and not getting up until he was released. Again, I gave Copper a 30 minute break.
After the break, it was Kim’s turn. As usual, with Kim was doing well with little correction! By the end of another 45 minutes (or so) Kim and Copper were consistently downing from 50-75 yards away.
On that great progress, we ended day 3.
As always, RECAP! We spent the first couple of hours going over and fine-tuning everything Copper had learned, thus far. As Kim and David quickly pointed out, “Every day he is getting faster and better at the commands.”
At this point, we had Copper doing everything outside and off leash, we had pushed his extended down to over 100+ yards away! Not bad for a dog who would not down AT ALL less than 24 hours ago.
My afternoon objective was to teach Copper the “through” command. Through is where the dog goes in-between your legs and sits down. We started working Copper on the through, again, he did better than average on this. Again, I still think he was trying to make up for his fight on the down. Within about an hour, Copper was doing through very well from about 10-15 feet away. We gave Copper a 30-minute break.
During this break, I did what I normally do, I put the leash on me and I had Kim to replicate the movements of the through with the leash. We spent about 15-20 minutes doing this, that way Kim would have the muscle memory of this command down before we had her do it with Copper. Once Kim felt comfortable, it was time for her to work Copper.
I had Kim spend about 45 minutes to an hour working Copper on the through command. I think Kim had a bit more trouble on this than anything I had taught her so far. This isn’t uncommon, we consider this an “advanced command” for a reason. It takes a lot of small moving parts on the owners part, timing, hand positioning, and leash management in order to make this a smooth teaching to the dog. However, just like everything else, Kim picked it up and started doing it pretty well. She had Copper doing the through from about 15-20 feet away, off leash.
We decided to end the day with teaching Copper the fundamentals of the heel command (go around and sit next to your left leg). I knew we didn’t have enough time (nor did Copper have enough stamina) to have it mastered by the end of day 4, but I wanted him to have the concept. The great thing about the “heel command” is once they know through, generally heel is very easy for them to learn (same setup, movements, etc). Just as I had planned, Copper was doing it fairly decent in about 20-30 minutes. I had Kim do it with him for about 15-20 minutes, and then we ended our day.
Kim and David were gracious enough to invite me to their house for dinner that night, which was awesome! I went to the hotel, showered, changed, and came back to their home for dinner. Of course I couldn’t show up empty handed, so I brought my donation of a 6-pack of Shock Top, one of my personal favorites. During dinner, we talked about everything, I wanted to find out about their jobs, how they got to Arkansas, etc. Seemingly, they already know all about me. So, it was great to learn about them and their backgrounds, as well. David pulled out his great gun collection and showed me some of his awesome weapons, I was in heaven seeing some of his collection! A fellow gun nut, I knew I liked this guy for a reason! Surprisingly, Kim knew all about guns and shooting, as well! I would have feel bad for a criminal who would mistake them for easy targets, that’s for sure!
David informed me that he wouldn’t be home by the time I left tomorrow, so around 10pm we said our goodbyes and I thanked him for having me out and allowing me into his home. He was truly an awesome guy and it was a great pleasure to meet and talk with him.
The last day before I fly back to Virginia! As always, we did about a 2-hour recap on everything, outside and off leash. After this recap, we spent about another hour fine tuning and working the through command from further distances. Naturally, we gave Copper a long break after all of this work.
After the break, we starting working Copper’s heel command again, we spent another hour on the heel until he was doing it outside, off leash, and consistently well. Then we started going through and heel transitions; meaning, I would tell him to heel, back up, and tell him to through. This is done just to ensure the dog is actually listening and paying attention to the command its’ self. Again, it was time for Copper to take another break.
Due to the fact that I still had about 3 hours left and Copper was now doing 7 commands outside and off leash, I decided to teach Copper and Kim the “watch” command. Copper learned this very fast, as well. Within about 45 minutes, Copper was watching and maintaining solid eye contact. He was doing so well, we started incorporating background noises (us banging on stuff, hitting things, etc), this is done in order to ensure the dog maintains the eye contact despite a bunch of things going on around them. I gave Copper about a 15-20 minute break while I thoroughly explained the workings of the watch command to Kim.
After the break, I had Kim spend about 45 minutes working Copper on the watch command, Kim and Copper both did wonderful on this and needed very little correction.
Now, 6-year old Basset Hound “Copper” does 8 commands outside, off leash, and nearly flawless. What a transformation from a dog who literally knew nothing just 5 days ago.
I spent the last hour going over Kim’s pages and pages of notes she had written down, just to ensure what she wrote matched with what I was trying to tell her. She had taken very thorough notes and it was probably 98% accurate, which was impressive.
Finally, we recapped on the main points to remember and said our goodbyes!
It’s a very odd feeling spending so much time with people and their dogs at their home, within 5 days I was feeling like I was part of the family and was disappointed to be leaving.
Kim, David, Copper, and the rest of their dogs will be missed! What great people and great dogs, it makes me feel very humbled to have such amazing people want to work with me.
**At the time I wrote this blog, I have issued a Facebook/YouTube challenge, saying, “If you can find a Basset Hound more well-trained/obedient anywhere on the internet, send us the link and we will give you $1000.00. I am 100% convinced, that I have made Copper the most obedient Basset Hound in the country, so convinced I am willing to bet money on it.”**