March 7th, 2023
By Nicole Forsyth, President and CEO
Last summer, RedRover assisted our friends at the Humane Society of the United States with their historic effort to remove and place approximately 4,000 beagles from a breeding facility for laboratory testing. Our team helped care for hundreds of these beagles, and RedRover President and CEO Nicole Forsyth went a step further – she adopted an eight-week-old beagle puppy and named him Finn!
Now seven months old, Finn is a playful, curious, and endlessly entertaining member of the family – with no shortage of puppy energy! Here, Nicole writes about their ventures into dog training as he fully adjusts to domestic life in New Hampshire.
Finn and I recently finished Week 2 of our “Everyday Canine Essentials,” a dog training class offered by the Monadnock Humane Society in New Hampshire, which took in some of the rescued beagles last year. Finn LOVES food and LOVES to put everything in his mouth (food and non-food), including the toxic mushrooms growing in the nearby woods! So a big goal for training is to help him learn when to “Leave it” to keep him safe. I could also use the “Leave it” command when Finn is beagle braying at the cats or chewing on the couch cushions or ripping up paper. I once caught a letter to a donor just in time, but it did go into the mail with a few teeth marks!
Finn also LOVES attention, so I have two really strong rewards – FOOD and ATTENTION – to reinforce desired behaviors. And he loves to learn, so I am feeling good about what we can accomplish together with some time, focus, and help from knowledgeable trainers using positive training techniques!
My homework this week was to look for behaviors I wanted to see, like looking at me when I say his name, and to give him lots of positive attention for these behaviors. Well, this was easy, because he is ridiculously adorable, happy, and super affectionate! But I paid close attention to behaviors like when he asked to go outside, danced around on his back legs (because I want to teach him some dance moves), came when called, and when he was quiet and polite with the cats.
I also realized I had to be more careful about which behaviors I was reinforcing that I didn’t intend to! Finn had already made up a game of grabbing socks, seeing if I would chase him and catch him before he hid them under the bed. The trainer showed us a picture of a beagle – of course! – stealing a box of pizza from a counter (Finn would sooo do this), and told us that “to get the behaviors we want, we need to be the pizza.”
So, our other homework was to identify our dogs’ favorite treats. Since Finn goes nuts over anything to eat, finding his equivalent of pizza took some close observation, but I decided he was totally bonkers for cheese and some soft treats I had on hand.
Week one covered the three steps we’d be using for training:
During Week Two we got to try these steps with our dogs. We learned how to use treats to “be the pizza” and “lure” our dogs into the correct behavior. Finn is so focused on food, and the High Value treats I picked were so effective, that this proved to be fairly easy. These treats got his attention more than the other dogs in the room. Every dog in the class was different, and the dog next to us was so shy and nervous she didn’t want treats, so she just worked on feeling comfortable.
I learned that small, low-to-the-ground dogs – like Finn and the corgi and rat terrier mixes in the room – are often hard to teach to lie down, but the trick the trainer showed us of luring food under our knees while sitting on the ground worked like magic! He crawled under my knee as if through a tunnel and when he was down I said “Yes!” and gave him treats. Once he had this first step, then I added the command “Down,” and rewarded him once he had his belly on the ground. We also used food to lure from a sit to a stand position by moving the treats in our hands forward away from our dogs’ heads.
For “Leave it,” we were all given a different treat by the trainer, and we covered this treat on the ground with one hand. Then we let our dogs sniff that hand and as soon as they lost interest we’d say “Yes!” to mark the behavior and throw a reward treat far away from the covered treat. Once that was consistent, we added the voice command, “Leave it.”
Now, my homework is to practice these with Finn in a bunch of different locations around the house, and we need to bring back the “Leave it” training treat uneaten.
Wish me luck! Stay tuned for more adventures in training Finn!