Sample Training Protocol
Here is a sample plan for a foster dog's first week in training. It's fairly generic, and would work for most foster dogs who do not have specific behavioral issues. The protocol is divided between formal obedience exercises (Sit, Down, loose-leash walking, possibly Stay), manners exercises (NILF, 10 Things I Love About You, accepting restraint and groomer/veterinarian handling politely), and exercises intended to prevent common problems like separation anxiety and resource guarding.
If you can do more than what is outlined here, that's awesome! Doubling or tripling this protocol would be ideal. But for most of us, a foster dog is a second (or third, or fourth...) dog in the household, and fostering is added to a long list of other responsibilities including work, family commitments, and other hobbies. This plan was designed with those limitations in mind. These exercises take about 30 to 60 minutes per day (depending on the length of the socialization walk and how quickly the foster pup responds to training exercises), which is around the bare minimum time necessary to make any progress with a dog.
- Begin Nothing In Life Is Free (until dog knows Sit, attention and calmness are sufficient)
- Begin 10 Things I Love About You
- Begin housebreaking
These exercises should begin immediately upon a foster dog's arrival in a new home. The rest of the protocol, however, can wait a day or two until the foster dog has had a little time to adjust to the sudden change in his environment. Especially shy dogs may need even longer to feel comfortable enough to begin training. Only begin formal training when the dog seems settled enough to be receptive.
- Touch/Restraint: Gently restrain dog by shoulders for 3 to 10 seconds, feeding tiny bits of treats throughout.
- Separation Anxiety I: Spend 10 minutes quietly in the same room as the dog without paying any attention to dog (read book, work on computer, etc.). If possible, have dog tethered or crated with a high-value chew or stuffed Kong during this period, and pick a time when the dog is well exercised and has recently pottied. Remove chew or Kong at end of period if not finished.
- Separation Anxiety II: Treat the dog whenever you leave her sight. Use three or four different varieties of treats so that no one treat becomes the "goodbye flavor." Try to choose moderate- to high-value treats that take a few seconds to chew and swallow (medium-sized biscuits with a dab of cream cheese or peanut butter, jerky strips broken into smaller pieces, etc.). Do this at least 5x over the course of the day (not always leaving the house -- going into the bathroom and closing the door counts). After the second day, very short absences (such as going to the bathroom) don't have to be treated. At least one absence should be at least 10 minutes long, and the dog should go into her crate with a high-value chew during this time. Greetings and departures should be calm.
- Socialization: At least one walk in quiet to moderately busy area for 10 minutes or more; try to meet 3 strangers and have each give the dog a treat; try to meet one new friendly dog. Choose a slightly different route/area each time, if possible. Work on loose-leash walking when environmental distractions allow, and stop moving if/when the puppy pulls on leash, but primary emphasis should be on allowing the dog to sniff and explore the new area at her own pace.
- Feed meals in crate with door open while you stay in sight; pet and talk to dog while eating. Watch for any stiffening or tension that could indicate resource guarding. If such signs appear, proceed cautiously with Trade game or consult with trainer before continuing.
- During Touch/Restraint exercise, examine dog's ears.
- 5x: Throw a treat or piece of kibble into the open crate, allow dog to go in and get it; do not close crate door.
- 10x: Attention/name game
- 10x: Begin luring a Sit. Try to shift to an empty hand for the second set of 5 if the dog appears to grasp the concept quickly.
- 5x: Trade game (dry biscuit for higher-value treat)
- Begin loose-leash walking, starting indoors in boring rooms with few distractions.
- Begin playing games (Tug, Find It, Ball Chase or Fetch); see which ones the dog prefers.
- Monitor dog's behavior in new situations and around new people, other dogs, and cats or small animals. Record any apparent triggers or problem areas to be worked on.
- Feed one meal in crate with door closed but not latched while you stay in sight
- Play Trade game with other meal (use dry kibble, if possible; remove bowl 5 times, offer a better treat, return bowl for a few bites, remove again; end by allowing dog to finish her meal)
- During Touch/Restraint exercise, lift dog's forepaws one at a time and examine her feet
- 10x: Attention/name game
- 5x: Throw a treat or piece of kibble into the open crate, allow dog to go in and get it; close crate door in 3 out of 5 repetitions. Treat the dog again, separately, after closing the door each time (so use a total of at least 8 treats in this game).
- 10x: Practice Sit, raising criteria as dog progresses
- Play more games, building on previous games and trying new ones.
- Continue indoor loose-leash walking.
- Hand-feed a small amount of kibble or canned food between meals; pet and talk to dog while eating.
- If a calm, sociable, stable helper dog is available, introduce foster dog to this dog and observe their interactions (do they play? avoid one another? does the foster seem adept with canine body language and respectful of the other dog's communications? any apparent problem areas?)
- If a helper dog is available, play Trade game with dry biscuit in the presence of the other dog (who should be crated, tethered, or distracted with a chew toy to avoid interference with the game).
- Feed both meals in crate with door closed and latched. Leave for a few seconds while the dog is distracted eating and return quietly.
- Play Trade game with moderate-value chew (rawhide, bully stick, or Kong stuffed with mid-level goodies).
- During Touch/Restraint game, lift all four feet in turn and examine foot pads of each.
- 10x: Practice Sit (by this point most dogs should be able to respond to a verbal cue at least some of the time).
- 10x: Begin luring Downs.
- 5x: Throw treat or piece of kibble into open crate, allow dog to go in and get it; close and latch crate every time, then treat again when door is closed. Begin prefacing each toss with a verbal cue such as "Kennel up!" or "Box!" If dog anticipates the throwing gesture by entering crate before the treat is tossed, jackpot!
- Continue with hand-feeding/chew touch desensitizations and, whenever possible, proximity work with helper dog.
- Continue playing games, and if possible, invite a helper to play with the dog as well.
- Continue indoor loose-leash walking.
- Double socialization walks to at least 20 minutes per day and 5 new people. Try to meet people of various ages, ethnicities, and wearing different clothing (in particular, hats and sunglasses).
- Continue everything as under Day Three, but do both feet and ear checks during Touch/Restraint game.
- Alternate between feeding meals in the crate (and leaving for short periods while the dog eats) and conducting Trade games with meals. Mix canned food into the kibble to raise the value of meals during Trade games.
- During crate kibble toss game, ask dog to wait inside closed crate for a few seconds before release (and release only when dog is quiet); reward for that too. If not already started, begin putting a verbal cue on entering the crate.
- Start rewarding loose-leash walking more heavily during outdoor socialization walks.
- Continue everything as under Day Four, but (if possible) add a second session of the Trade game in which a helper, not you, conducts the trades. Also invite a helper to hand-feed a small amount of kibble and pet/talk to the dog throughout.
- During Touch/Restraint exercise, check dog's teeth.
- Gradually fade out lure on Downs, begin shifting to hand signals.
Days Six and Seven:
- Continue everything as under Day Five, but (if possible) ask helper to pet and talk to the dog while she eats a small amount of kibble mixed with canned food out of a bowl. Have the helper remove the bowl partway through the meal, offer a better treat, and then return the food bowl.
- During Touch/Restraint exercise, check dog's feet, teeth, and ears.
- If dog is doing well, taper off indoor loose-leash drills and begin practicing outdoors in quiet areas with few distractions (backyard, deck, low-traffic neighborhood streets, etc.).
- Begin proofing Sit in quiet outdoor areas. By now most dogs should be fairly reliable on verbal cue alone, especially if they're getting plenty of practice through the NILF protocol.
- Continue shifting Down to hand signals; add verbal cue if dog is sufficiently advanced.
- Introduce Stay if dog seems clear on Sit and Down (do not add this exercise yet if dog is having difficulty with previous commands).