Start out with your dog on leash (regular gear) and the decoy (also on leash) will be doing all the moving; stepping into view and then out of view (behind a visual block like a wall, fence, car, tree, etc…). Prior to starting, ask for a couple of “drop it”s to warm your dog up. Don’t ask for a “sit” – forcing your dog to be stationary is going to cause more stress. Standing is best!
The decoy should be 5-10 feet beyond your dog’s threshold. This means that if your dog starts barking and lunging at triggers at 20 feet, the decoy should be at 30 feet. This will allow you to work “subthreshold” so that your dog isn’t practicing the barking and lunging and you can access their brain.
Good dog training is like watching paint dry. It’s nowhere near as exciting as TV shows like to pretend it is.
The decoy should step into sight and you will be watching your dog while keeping the decoy in your periphery. You don’t care what they’re doing – you care what your dog is experiencing. Allow your dog to notice the decoy but don’t point the decoy out or tell your dog “who’s that?” or anything of the sort. We want this to be organic and natural.
Your dog notices the decoy and you immediately go into happy-talking and feeding. Counterconditioning! This continues for 5-Mississippi.
The decoy can then step out of sight. Relax and be fairly boring for about 10 to 15 Mississippi.
Lather, rinse, repeat…IF your dog is relaxed, taking food, and not bursting into flames.
Let’s do 5 successful repetitions (no bursting into flames) and then the decoy can move 5-10 feet closer and you repeat the exercise with the same parameters.
As you repeat this exercise, you will be tempted to “get greedy”. Don’t do it. Have a set “terminal” distance in your mind before you start, such as: “if things are going well, we will get within 15 feet and then end the session.” This will prevent you from getting closer before your dog is ready. (Trust me.)
Even when things are going well, there is still an element of stress and this can “stack” in your dog’s system. Give them a good 3 days of decompression after a decoy session to recover if possible.
What if my dog bursts into flames (barking & lunging) or won’t take food?
If your dog bursts into flames, we have the decoy step out of sight, we do a “find it” to help our dog disengage, and when they have quieted down, we reassess. Move the decoy back 10 more feet. Distance is your friend!
What if the decoy dog starts barking?
We need a calm, cool, collected decoy to start! The handler should be also feeding their dog, doing calm find it’s on the spot, and generally keeping their dog as still as possible. Choose a different decoy for this round and save this one for a more challenging level.
What if you have a human decoy? Here’s the progression for that decoy:
- Person steps out and sits in a chair facing away from the dog
- Person steps out and sits in a chair facing to the side
- Person steps out and sits in a chair facing the dog, but looking down at his/her feet
- Person steps out and sits in a chair facing the dog, briefly glancing at the dog
- Person steps out and stands facing away from the dog
- Person steps out and stands facing to the side
- Person steps out and stands facing the dog, but looking down at his/her feet
- Person steps out and stands facing the dog, briefly glancing at the dog
- Person steps out and stands facing the dog, stretching arms overhead, briefly
- Person steps out and stands facing the dog, says “hello” to the dog, calmly
- Person steps out and stands facing the dog, says “hello” to the dog, calmly, and reaches toward dog briefly, retracts hand (all at a normal pace)