Friday, February 19, 2010

Free to Good Home

Did I get your attention with this title?  I actually do not have any dogs offered "free to a good home" but if i did, today would be Cooper's day!!  Many a good dog is purchased after a competition when the owner is stung with disappointment over a performance. I understand that feeling entirely. Distance in time provides a better perspective.

Today Cooper decided that the "down" command (couche', in french) did not apply to him.  We actually had a good training session prior to this, and then things just fell apart.  The good part was his heeling and the fact that his stand is looking very good.  He is freezing in motion, and steady for exam.  This is tremendous progress from where we began.  He was solid and happy. Another exercise I like to use is having the dog heel, then move to a front position, then move backwards and either finish (right side) or return to heeling(left side).  To do this the dog must understand each piece and the last part for Cooper involved teaching him to back straight and remain centered no matter which direction I move.  I ended with a little side-pass work, with his butt to the wall at first.  That was abit stickier but he never stopped taking food for reward, even under stress.

We did a few toy tosses and all was well; I thought it was a good ending to a good session. And then things went to shit....

I decided to ask him to down at the door. We had practiced some downs, and that is his slowest position. I know i have to work to speed it up.  But I didn't think it was such a big deal to ask him to do it in order to exit, which is something he wanted to do.  How simple is that? His reward would be for me to open the door for him.  But noooooo..... he refused. Again, and again, and again.
If I made a physical correction he would lay down reluctantly.  If not, he just stood and started at me.  Not a malicious, "I dare you" stare.  Just staring. I am not going to do this.  I wanted him to self discover that the down was rewarding, so I left him. He remained standing at the door and did not move, but did not lay down, either.

My training partner and I vaccummed the building and locked the doors. Several times he did lay down and I marked it "yes" and rewarded him but when I would take him back to the door and ask for it, he would refuse yet again.  I can't tell you how angry this was making me.  I knew I could physically force him to do it, but all that proved was that I could physically force him to do it.  Bah.

Time was running out. At some point we were going to have to leave!!  I carried my gear bag out to the van and still he did not lay down.  I gave one last command and I could see the little wheels turning. He started to dip his head and I helped him out by encouraging him with "good boy".  He layed down. I said "yes" and opened the door.  Oh Lord, I couldn't leave well enough alone and this could have gone five ways to ugly, too, but at the van I got water for him and could tell he was very, very thirsty. So guess what? I let his tongue barely touch the water and then withheld it.  Once again, I asked him to lay down.  He danced on his front legs.  You could almost envision the thought bubble over his head "what to do? what to do?"  and yippee, he layed down!! Cooper got his water and I made sure not to make any more requests that I didn't have the time or patience to back up!

This is not an uncommon occurrence in dog training, particularly with pet dogs.  What happens? The owner lets the dog out before work and is in a hurry. Dog refuses to come, sit or whatever and owner does not have the time to deal with it, so dog learns a command has a finite time limit.  Ask what you have the time and tools to reinforce.

Stay tuned for the results of Cooper's "down" lesson for Saturday!