Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Dark's Discovery

Although this is going to be the story of Dark's Day, I must report that today's "tracking" practice is much improved.  No scent pads, just reinforcing that they can find reward by smelling the ground.  The Pupsters seemed to be grasping the concept, as I tossed trails of meat.  We should be ready to move back to scent pads soon.

At the end of this training session, we went for a walk and the pups were exploring, so I ran back to the puppy paddock and called.  They all came running, fast as they could, except Dark.   I decided that if little Dark couldn't be bothered to want to respond to me, he needed time for reflection.  Into the house he went, and into a crate to consider his existence.  He spent some amount of time arguing about it, but it didn't take him long to discover no one was going to save him while he was screaming.  I held my hand on the crate latch, which encouraged more protest and quietly and calmly said "no" as he scratched and struggled.  When he finally stopped and sat without whining or biting/scratching I marked it with "yes" and opened the door for him.  That is an important lesson for puppies to learn; you must be calm in order for the door to open.  It is a fine balance, however; if the protest stems from a need to pee, then you don't have time to waste but you can tell one from the other based on whether the pup has just awakened from a nap.

Dark needs to learn that his little world depends on a HUMAN.  He has been much better lately about his restraint, though, through repetition.  We also did three retrieves using the rolled up sock and with some encouragement and restricting his options, he brought it back each time.  He wanted to possess it, and wasn't as pleased about releasing.  He needs food trades at this point, so that he learns that surrendering his prize is not a contest of strength and can also be rewarding, so that you end up with a calm release.

On Tuesdays I do maintenance training for several local police departments, and we were meeting at a warehouse in Appleton.  Dark rode in his crate, seat-belted in to the front seat of the van.  Once we arrived, I got him out to potty and then he went back in the crate, where he waited while the police dogs trained.  When it was his turn to come out,  the officers had treats and would ask for a "sit", so he got to practice that. 

Another thing I like to do is "puppy gymnastics" which involves luring with food and having them spin one direction, then the other.  Essentially, you lure with the food, slowly leading the head back toward the hip as the puppy bends.  It is a good flexibility exercise that you can use no matter the age, to warm up a dog before vigorous exercise, just like an athlete, stretching.  It also reinforces interaction with the human partner.

Dark practiced his on-leash walking with only a minor rodeo performance, and was rewarded for following nicely.  He also had his first lesson in laying down.  I shape the behavior before I put the command in place, and I will have to remember to use English or all the owners will have to learn German!  When I teach the commands, I tend to think in terms of the German words, which are what I use for my dogs (except one, whose commands are in French....another story) and I realized as I authored this post that I was *thinking* the command in German.   At any rate, I teach the down as a "fold back" position, and not going into the down from a sit command.  In this method, you do not end up with the slow, creeping forward sort of down position that commonly occurs when you teach it from a sit. 

For this method, you let the pup nibble the food in your hand from a standing position.  It is important that the food be something they can easily swallow without stopping to chew or the fluidity of movement will be halted.  I do not use a command until I have the behavior, because I don't want to say "down" and have the pup attach an incorrect behavior, such as still having the rump up.  Once I can cue the behavior and the pup throws itself down in anticipation of the treat, I use the command.  Additionally, the command is given BEFORE the cue with the hand.  Why?  Because if the movement comes first, the dog will disregard the command as useless information that it does not need in order to achieve reward.

Oh, I digress!  Back to the "down"; from the standing position, I first let the puppy move backward as I feed it, with thehand being about level with the head.  Too high, and it will cue the dog to sit.  I may even restrict access to the food in my hand by closing my fist around it and opening it when I have the behavior I want.  If the pup moves off the hand, I mark it and open my hand at the moment the pup takes the step backward.  The next step is simply to drop the hand to chest level and move it backward slowly, as if moving your hand between the front legs, toward the back.  Move too quickly and the dog will "smush", kindof buckle over itself or get twisted up. Move just right and the pup will fold back into a sphinx position.  Just as soon as they reach that position, mark it (yes!) and open the hand so they can eat the treats.  Dark got two nice repetitions in.  Definately not enough to know the behavior, but it's a start.

Remember that it takes many CORRECT repetitions for a dog to become fluid in a behavior.  You may see early flashes of brilliance, but do not assume that the dog knows what you are asking and then correct it when it goofs up the next time.  

Dark was being quite the little love, and very good in his crate during the evening.  I think it was a good lesson for him.

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