Puppy Training and A Whole New Way of Thinking

Please note this adorable face:

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Now note the 43 pounds of “puppy” it’s attached to.

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 I’m trying to train this.

We’re doing pretty good considering we haven’t attended any formal classes. We sit, and give paw and stay in the yard (for the most part) without a leash. When I want to find out something new I usually Google it, but it was Facebook that suggested Susan Garrett’s site to me and I actually accepted their suggestion for a change. Well! That was probably the smartest move I’ve made in a while. She offered a few free videos and one training game called “It’s Yer Choice”. I watched it and tried it on my dog and I was hooked! Charlotte caught onto the concept so fast! I was fascinated. I started trying it with the door. It’s a work in progress but it’s coming along. I know that part of the reason this one is slower is me. “Bad handler!”

What the general idea is, you don’t control the dog, you control the stimulus that the dog is after. With “It’s Yer Choice”, you have a handful of treats, closed in your hand, at the dogs level. The dog will try to get the treats from you. When s/he backs off to reassess the situation, you open your hand. If s/he advances, you close your hand, but don’t move it out of his level. The dog backs off, the hand opens. It’s incredible how quickly the dog will sit back and wait, even with your hand wide open and full of treats, for you to hand it the treat!

So, with the door, I put my hand on the knob. The dog advances on the door. I step back from the door. The dog will look at you confused, then dance around you a little, but will eventually move back and sit down to see what’s going to happen. So you move toward the door again. If the dog stands up, you  move back. See where this is going? You control whether or not the door opens, the dog controls it’s response to that stimulus.

I would LOVE to join Susan’s Recallers class, but I don’t have the money. It’s the reason I haven’t taken Charlotte to any other formal training. Going to school full time, working part time just doesn’t leave much extra. But now, I know I want to find training strategies that are completely positive. And I’m sorry all you Cesar Milan lovers, but I don’t find his stuff as helpful as Susan’s.

So back to searching YouTube. This time I was looking for leash tips and I found this guy from Training Positive. I’d read this strategy before, but this was the first time I saw it in action. Well, this morning, after baking some training treats (’cause buying them is getting too expensive!) I took her for a walk. The last few times I’d started stopping every time she pulled too hard, then starting again when the leash would slack up a little. This was because the husband didn’t agree with letting her drag him around the neighborhood, even though I joked it was a great workout for the upper arms!

So this time, I armed myself with a baggie full of treats and started in the driveway. She pulled, I stopped and instead of waiting for the leash to just go slack, I waited for her to look back at me like “Well, aren’t we going?” and I gave her a treat. We got to the corner and there were birds and squirrels!! I stopped, she looked back at me. I tried offering her a treat, but she was too wound up to take it. So I waited for the leash to slack up and moved on. Once we got past the distractions I returned to stopping every time she pulled and waiting for her to walk back to me. After dropping the treat on the ground the first couple times, she was ready to take it from me after that. I would hold it by my side so she had to literally come right next to me to take the morsel out of my fingers.

This went on and on. She didn’t pull as hard constantly, but I was beginning to feel like I was rewarding her for tugging. I wondered “am I creating a learned behavior? You tug on the leash so I’ll stop and you can have a treat?” But I kept at it because that seemed to be what Susan does. (I’m only speaking to my own impressions from her four videos. I could have this completely wrong!) I did start to notice something impressive though. She (Charlotte, not Susan) had stopped lunging after birds. She would pull a little harder, but when I stopped she came back to me immediately, as if to reassure herself that coming to me was more rewarding than trying to catch a bird. Would she get the treat? She sure did!
And the light bulb slowly started to burn a little brighter in my brain. “Is that what Susan means by me having more value for the dog than the distraction?” It’s not that I’m rewarding her, but I’m giving her a reason to stick with me. Chance of catching a bird? Well, zero have been caught so far. Chance of getting a treat if I go back by mom? Well, that was 99.99%

Bigger distractions were much harder to ignore, but this was just the first time. We passed a mama cat and her four kittens frolicking in a front yard and believe me, I had zero value at that point and I had to drag her away from the situation. Squirrels were pretty stimulating too. But we passed on birds! So it occurred to me on this walk, that many humans first instinct is to punish incorrect behavior. Or to suspect that using other methods is encouraging the animal to outsmart us. Yet, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

I’ve checked out the book “Don’t Shoot the Dog” by Karen Pryor.

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Her first chapter is entitled “Reinforcement: Better than Rewards”. We’ll see where this goes, but I’m liking the book so far.

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