Wednesday, June 22, 2011

How we found Bernie's hot button...

Bernie the beagle started "hunting" with his sister this season. He is so laid back and sweet natured, he could be a basset.
It did not take long for his sister to start finishing trails. Fast and agile, she has been doing really well. However Bernie, for some reason, was not running.

The first thing we tried was for Bernie's Dad to walk ahead with the team laying the trail in the hope that Bernie would follow him. But no go.
So I gave his owners my training programme that I had used to train my own dogs by imitating the "hunt" on a minor scale in the park.

Mom and Dad did this faithfully and were surprised that Bernie was the one who picked up the trail first and led the way ahead of his sister. Yet when it came to the actually "hunt" Bernie would run for a short while but always returned to his Mom and the group of waiting owners.

Now from what I've learnt about canine behaviour, the trick to motivating your dog to do something (a behaviour) is to find out what is their hot button. A useful guideline is researching what your dog was bred to do. For example, collies love to herd things, huskies love to pull things and retrievers love to fetch things. In the case of beagles, theoretically they love to follow scents and being part of the crowd joining in the excitement of the chase.

But the other thing that one learns about canine behaviour is that every dog is an individual. Broad scale solutions do not necessarily work for every dog because they are not all the same. So the question was what was Bernie's real hot button? What would incentivise him to join in the "hunt"?

His Mom and Dad had resigned themselves to the belief that Bernie was just not a runner. But I know that deep down (like any parent) you do want your dog to excel. The truth of the matter is that a lot of people drop out of the hunt when their dogs do not run and finish trails. This is a great pity for these dogs who are missing out on a fabulous outing in the bush that leaves them satisfied, happy and stimulated.

I was determined to get Bernie to run because it would be great for both him and his parents.
I began to get an inkling of what Bernie's hot button might be.

At the last "hunt" Bernie arrived with his Mom but no Dad. I insisted that Mom walk the line with the hunt master who was laying the trail. I also insisted that Bernie and his sister be separated at the start line. I took charge of Bernie and Jamie and someone else took Jemma and Bernie's sister. So Bernie was now with a stranger and no Mom or Dad at the start line.

The first time I released Bernie at the start, he immediately began searching the waiting group of owners for his parents. The second time, I made sure that Bernie had a clear view of his Mom disappearing with the team laying the trail.

Suddenly Bernie became a new dog ( I will never accuse him of being a laid back Basset again).
He howled and nearly pulled my arms out of their sockets in an attempt to follow his Mom. They were laying a particularly complicated and long trail around the valley. Those 20 minutes waiting for the horn to blow for the start of the race felt very long as Bernie tried every trick in the book to escape after his Mom.

I held my breath when Bernie disappeared this time. He has an orange race bib and I anxiously scanned every dog in orange returning to the waiting group. None of them was Bernie.
When the race was over and we walked to the finishing line to hear the results, the smile on the face of Bernie's Mom said it all. Bernie had finished the line ahead of his sister. There he sat looking adoringly at his mother.

So finally we had worked out what was Bernie's hot button. He is an extremely people orientated dog. Nothing motivates him more than being with his loving owners. Using the same tactic, Bernie successfully finished the next trail. His proud Mom phoned Dad long distance to share the news.

I was chuffed that I had played a small role in helping Bernie run. I had also learnt an interesting lesson about the need to find each individual dog's hot button if you want to motivate them to achieve a desired behaviour. Bernie's big reward was finding the people he loved at the end of the trail.
Let's hope Bernie keeps running!