Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Emergency Down

You know what I'm loving about my new training class? Everything we're learning is new. I've done four classes (Puppy Kindergarten, Puppy Elementary, and Basic Beginner's twice) so far, but they were all really teaching the same basic obedience (sit, down, stay, etc.). With the fourth class it started to feel really stale. But with this new class I'm learning so many great new things! In just two weeks we've learned "heel" and the different positions to sit (front, heel, and round). Theo has already learned on our walks that when I stop it means he should immediately sit, and I think the most useful thing I've learned is the emergency down.

The emergency down is just what it sounds like. When I say down in a serious and firm tone (and maybe even a little panicked?), Theo should stop whatever he's doing and drop to the ground. I have to use a different tone than his normal downs because it's really supposed to convey a sense of urgency. I just learned it last week and I've already, unfortunately, had reason to use it twice.

I took Theo to the dog park last Saturday. The "All Dog" pen can get a bit rowdy, so I usually stick to the "Small Dog" pen, but this time the "Small Dog" pen and the "Big Dog" pen were both totally empty, so the "All Dog" pen was really the only option. All the dogs were friendly and playing nicely until two dogs started trying to play with the same toy. Naturally, a fight broke out. One dog started chomping down on the other poor, scared dog, who despite all his squirming and crying, couldn't break free of the chompy dog.

I tell you, a fight at the dog park is like when a fight would break out in high school. No matter where on campus you were, you always knew when there was a fight because you would see people flocking. In this case all the dogs in the dog park swarmed the fighting dogs, and all the owners flocked the flock, trying to make sure their dog didn't get caught up in the mess (not to mention trying to break the fighting dogs apart).

Naturally, Officer Theo was on the case. No such rowdiness was allowed on his watch, so he decided to get right in the dogs' faces and try to break up the fight (read: he barked a lot in their faces). Thankfully they were too busy fighting with each other to be bothered by Theo, but I just about had a heart attack. I tried calling him to me, he couldn't hear me over the ruckus. I tried getting to him so I could pull him away, but the group kept moving and it was no good. I then remembered the emergency down. Again, since he couldn't hear me, it didn't do much good, but right about then the dog's owners were able to break to two dogs apart (with a bit of blood and some torn skin on the poor scared dog). Officer Theo, apparently highly indignant at the chompy dog's behavior, decided that he was going to follow him and give him a piece of his mind (read: he barked in his face more). Afraid that Theo would be chompy dog's next victim, I gave my emergency down another go, and this time it worked! He didn't stay down for very long, but it was long enough for me to run over and help chompy's owner get his leash on so she could get him out of the pen.

Not happy with my results, we spent some time practicing before I let him go and play again. Again, I'm glad I did because the next day I had cause to use it again, though thankfully the circumstances were much less serious.

We met a Boxer in our walk Sunday evening. There's a small park in our complex where I usually let Theo run off leash to help get some of his energy out (Shhh! Don't tell my HOA!). The Boxer's owner apparently had the same idea because she was already off her leash. After I asked if it was alright if I let Theo off leash as well, the two played for a bit. But Theo didn't seem to really like playing with her much. She was being a little rougher than he liked, and at one point he squealed because of something she did (he was fine, just overpowered), and I could sense the situation could escalate because Theo was feeling threatened. As soon as he squealed I said "DOWN!" and just like that Theo was slumped on the ground in a down. Amazing! Better still the Boxer, seeing Theo stop to lay down, followed suit and laid down herself! In an instant the play/almost fight was broken up and they were laying quietly on the ground.

The emergency down is definitely something I would recommend teaching your dog. I'm actually surprised we didn't learn it as part of basic obedience, though I suppose it's because of time constraints. We can only learn so much each week.

Aside: I told my trainer this story last night and she just about fell over laughing at the thought of Officer Theo trying to tell two fighting dogs what's what. She knows Corgis, so she could picture it real well.

Also, by the time we left everyone at the dog park was calling him Officer Theo too. It's catchy!


Cathy Santarsiero, "The Christmas Corgi" said...

You are so right about teaching that 'down' command. I remember searching for a friend's dog who wiggled out of his collar and took off. We searched by car in the neighborhood. After a while, I spotted him far away in someone's yard. I got out of the car and yelled his name and gave him a hand signal down command which he knew from his training, and then a stay command. He (thankfully) stayed down until I was able to reach him and get him back to the car. Cat ^..^

Malissa said...

Excellent training! One thing I would recommend is getting a small horn to take to the dog park. I used to work at a doggie day care and when things would get too heated, just a short horn blast stunned everyone into stopping. I take one every time I go to the park cause I have a pug who likes to start trouble. I got mine on amazon.

JuLo said...

You mean like a bull horn? Haha! That's crazy, but a good idea. Thankfully Theo is so chicken he'd rather just leave the situation than fight...and he'd rather flop on his side and show his belly than confront another dog. But you just never know. That's why I stick to the small dog pen. I can pull a pug off my dog, but a pitbull or a german shepherd? Not so much.

Puglette said...

Hi Julo, what kind of training is this? I love the idea of an emergency down. That can be helpful in so many situations. Thanks for sharing!

JuLo said...

This is Theo's intermediate obedience class. It's basically obedience for people who want beyond just the basics. At the end of the class all the dogs are tested for their Canine Good Citizenship.

eikoleigh said...

Julo, that's a really good tip and a good example of when an Emergency Down comes in handy. Reminds me that I need to take my boys for intermediate training. :-\

Malissa, a horn is actually a good idea. (I guess the sound would travel better than a voice.) What kind of horn do you use? A bike horn?

Philip said...

Oh yeah, the air horn! I used to volunteer at a dog shelter and that's exactly what they had on every single dog yard door (plus a few extras in other places) - in case a fight breaks out. When you sound the horn, the dogs stop for a split second going "Huh? Who? What? Where?" and you can get them separated at that time if you act fast enough. Fortunately I never had to see it in use though.

I do know that they used air horns specifically because they make a very high pitched piercing sound, and people who've seen them used swore that it stops any dog in its tracks.

So I'm curious, but other than the different tone of the command, is this emergency down the same as a regular down? Did you do something special to teach it?

JuLo said...

Technically no. It's the same word, same hand motion, same response desired. It's more like the situation you plan to use it I guess?

With Theo there are certain commands that I teach him that always get him a treat if he does it (and I try to only teach it when I have a treat handy, so if I ever do need it in an emergency, he won't stop to think about it). So far there is "here" which is like come, but I point to a specific spot in front of me. "Listen" which is kind of like an emergency watch me. He stops what he's doing and looks at me. And the emergency down.

Basically those are 3 things that I always want him to associate with something extra good, and something that puts a smile on his face when I ask him to do it. That way if there's trouble, I feel like I have some backup commands that I know I'll get a response with.

So when I teach the emergency down I try to keep it random. When we're walking I'll give him the command. When he's playing I'll give him the command. And always treat and praise when he does it. The regular down I normally use when I want him to just stay in one place or to relax on his spot. I can't explain it as well as I would like, but the tone of voice really makes a difference with him.