Given the history and main uses of the Finnish Spitz, it is no surprise that even those not actively worked as hunting dogs are very interested in scent tracking and barking at/treeing moving prey.
Rather than being an annoyance to be worked around, why not let their natural instincts become a source of reward?
Introduction to the Premack Principle
By utilizing the Premack Principle, you can have your dog work for life rewards instead of struggling to get their attention using other means.
It’s pretty simple, and we do it constantly without even realizing it.
A good example of Premack is teaching your dog to wait in a sit before being let out a door or crate. This translates to, “You do X behavior, and then you get to go engage in Y activity.”
The behavior is the sit/wait, and the activity they get to engage in is being let out for some play or for a walk.
How to use the Premack Principle with Loose Leash Walking
Another use that I have employed with all of my Finnish Spitz is to help with loose leash walking when all they really want to do is sniff particular spots on the ground.
Like most things in dog training, when starting to use Premack, don’t ask for too much too soon. Let your dog approach a potentially interesting spot of your choice (in the case of a dog that marks a lot, for example, this could be any upright object outside!) then right before reaching it, ask for something you know your dog can do pretty easily, like a sit or hand touch.
It might take time, but they should complete the behavior. If they are struggling, you can use a lure or hand signal with or without food. You can also back further away from the object/spot if needed.
Do not use any physical manipulation or positive punishment to get this.
As soon as they do the cued task, release them with a phrase like, “OK, go sniff!” This tells them that they are free to do with they wanted to do in the first place.
Try your best to keep a loose leash, even if it means jogging with them a few feet to their sniffing spot.
Once they are done sniffing, reward them for coming to you. Not only do they get to engage in sniffing, but then they get a treat for returning to you. If they are not taking anything, then lots of praise and pets if they like it will suffice for now.
Continue on your way until you get to another popular sniffing spot.
Trouble Shooting: Unanticipated Life Rewards
What happens if they try to go to a spot you didn’t anticipate?
Get them back to you and redo the above steps. Use your happy voice, change directions, whatever tactics you need to use in a positive manner.
The goal is for the dog to learn that you will let them sniff and do their thing on occasion but since they have to earn it, they will be waiting for your instruction and therefore listening a bit more. It’s a win-win.
For Finnish Spitz in particular, getting to tree a squirrel (even if they did not do the initial chasing) is an awesome reward. As long as it’s safe, follow the steps outlined above with the tree as the goal.
Eventually, seeing a squirrel cross your path becomes a cue for them to pay attention, as they know once they reach the tree, there is a chance they will be allowed to bark at it.
Much easier than begging for attention, and my dogs think it’s just the best!
This article also appeared in the AKC Gazette for June 2015.