Koda graduated from our main program when he was about 6 months old, and came back for a week long refresher course.
During our refreshers, we are working on whatever individual items that particular dog needs. In Koda’s case, there were a few things that we needed to cover. Koda was young when he graduated, so we were not able to ask too much of him in terms of duration exercises. We were able to increase the duration of all of his stays and places going forward, no matter what the environment.
Koda also had developed a reluctance to jump into the car. He struggled with this when we first started working with him, and we worked through it. After a long break from car rides, he became a little apprehensive about them again, but it only took us about 15 minutes to get him back on his A-game.
We also wanted to fade out Koda’s training tools while he was with us for his refresher training week. Training tools are very useful when dogs are going through the learning process, but we always want to have an exit strategy for the dogs. People should be working towards phasing these tools out as the dog progresses, rather than relying on them forever.
After a week spent working on these skills, we took Koda back home for an in-home private lesson. We showed his owners how to get him in and out of their large SUV, and went on a nice walk with him. There is no better feeling than a relaxing walk with a dog walking on a loose leash at your side, totally in sync with you. We have followed up with the owners since Koda went home, and he is still doing great and is perfectly mannered wherever they take him.
How Do You Fade Out Training Tools?
First of all, let’s establish what we mean by “training tools”. A training tool is any item that we are using to help us establish better behavior from the dog. Most commonly, this is some type of training collar. It could be a slip collar, a prong collar, a martingale, electric collar, head halter, or a Starmark collar. Other training tools can be things like a Pet Corrector or a muzzle.
When we start a training program with a new dog, we evaluate them to figure out which training tools are the right fit. Not every dog is a candidate for every tool. Once we have the right selection made, we start introducing the dog to the tool and make sure that they understand it. A key part of our transition lessons with owners is making sure that the owners also have a very clear picture of how the tools work.
We expect dogs to use their tools for at least 30-60 days after graduation. This gives the dog and owner plenty of practice time, but really there is no rush. Some people fade tools out in a month, others it might take a year. Koda’s owners had mostly stopped using them, but wanted to make that final step toward getting rid of his prong collar. We accomplished this with Koda, and now he can perform all of his obedience with just a flat collar.
The one caveat that we gave his owner is the same one that we give to all our clients. If your dog is off leash in an uncontrolled setting, you should always have a safety net. Dogs are still animals at the end of the day, and no dog will ever be 100% reliable every time. Our recommendation for off leash work is that the dog either have a long line or an electric collar. Either tool will allow them to enjoy lots of freedom in a safe manner.