A simple set of keys can help you deepen your relationship with your dog and alleviate many forms of problem behavior. Dogs with recall problems, a tendency for chewing, digging, or other destructive antics, or appetite problems can be successfully “keyed in” by a simple form of sound conditioning. You will need four or five keys on a key chain. Every second key should be brass, while the others should be made of another metal, preferably not aluminum. Brass and steel make higher-pitched sounds, and four or five keys sound better to dogs than ten or twenty.
The basic idea behind this sound conditioning is to precede desired behavior with a distinctive sound. Keys are used here since they provide a strong, high-pitched sound that is irresistible to the dog once it is properly conditioned. Hand clapping, whistling, and cooing are in another realm, obviously proceeding from a person. To these specifically human sounds, a dog may or may not respond, depending on the current state of the relationship between the dog and the person making the sound. Keys or whistles are neutral, and therefore more effective. However, most trainers find the most effective sound device to be the keys on a chain.
How does it work?
Let’s take an example. Your dog doesn’t come when called. If you have a puppy or a dog under two years old, your chances for effective sound conditioning to correct the “come problem” are better than with an older dog who is used to going the other way when called. Yet, it is never too late to try this training technique. For the utmost success, you must have regular feeding times for your dog twice daily, and he must finish eating in about fifteen to twenty minutes. If you have your dog on the “nibbler plan” you will have to switch to regular feeding times and remove the food if it is not finished promptly.
Before placing the dish within his reach and allowing him to eat, get your dog’s attention and jingle the keys for two or three seconds. Then go about your business as he eats. Do not make a show out of this, and preferably do not allow your dog to see you jingle the keys. You may attach the keys to your belt loop with a snap belt. Repeat this procedure at the second meal, continuing it for two or three weeks. Do not use the keys around your dog for any other purpose until you have spent some time in this conditioning procedure whenever your dog eats. Another positive booster and “reinforcing effect” can be gained by using the keys whenever you return from work, from an errand, or in your car – stop the motor, open the door (both distinctive sounds in themselves), jingle the keys, and call out the dog’s name in a happy voice that carries.
After two or three weeks, begin a daily session in which you call your dog, jingle the keys, and praise him lavishly when the recall is good. Make sure you are crouching down, have a smile on your face, have your arms open to “funnel” the dog in to you, and are not over-jingling your keys. The whole point, obviously, is to let the dog hear the sound of the keys – the conditioning sound – so that he reacts positively, on his own. Let the dog win. Then reverse the procedure by jingling first and then calling your dog’s name. Finally, try it with the keys alone and you will be amazed at how quickly he will eagerly come to you.