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Monday, August 16, 2010

Goals and sucesses

Unfortunately, I have no photos for this post. It's hard to hold clicker, treats, and leash, let alone a camera. I'll try to come up with something in the future...

There is an SCGSF (Saluki Club of Greater San Francisco) specialty in October. For my non-fancy friends, this means lots of salukis all in one place. This specialty will offer obedience trials as well as conformation, which means that the judge will only be scoring salukis.

I read over the Novice requirements - heeling patterns, stand for examination, long sit and long down, a recall. I thought these were all things Cyrus is capable of, and at a specialty, he will not have the misfortune of trialing right after the judge watches some flawless border collie. They will all be salukis. So I decide I will try this out.

Even better luck - SCGSF is having a fun match in September with conformation as well as Canine Good Citizen tests. This test is the AKC's bridge between pethood and obedience trial dog, and includes many of the same basic behaviors but easier. In the heeling pattern, for instance, the dog just has to have a loose leash, not strict heeling position, and the handler can talk to the dog all she likes.

So I decide I shall enter Cyrus in this as well.

In the meantime, I have read Karen Pryor's new book "Reaching the Animal Mind". In it, she recounts, among other things, her experience training six wild-caught spinner dolphins and one spotted dolphin to jump on cue. She only had one whistle to mark the behavior - dolphins who were jumping when they heard the toot got fish, those who weren't, didn't.

This is exactly the thing I worry about: one clicker, three dogs. Clearly, it works for Karen Pryor and I need to stop being a wimp.

I wimped out, and on Friday, while prepping chicken, I worked on the dogs' downs. They know to stand quietly and patiently in hopes of getting scraps, but if none are forthcoming, they get bored and lay down. When any of the dogs did so, I tossed them a treat. Over the course of dinner prep, Sasha did ok. Mya already knows this game, so she did fine. Cyrus was getting the idea toward the end, but the big dogs weren't exhibiting the "I know this will work" attitude that marks learning in a clicker dog.

Today, I brought out the clicker. If more than one dog was laying down when I clicked, then more than one dog got a treat, if anyone was standing, they lost out. Within 10 minutes or so, the big dogs were laying down as soon as they'd gotten up and fetched their treats. Cyrus was even scooting himself around on the floor to reach the goodie, if it was close enough (I tried to throw them far enough away to make the dog get up, which gives it another chance to choose to lay down, without being so far that another dog could steal it).

Power to the clicker.

Second success:

Sasha is half-husky. It is enough husky that she is determined to be a sled dog. When we got her, putting a leash on meant Sasha would be at the end of it, pulling. If you stop so that she cannot go farther forward, she would just pull in a circle around you. I tried with the clicker and treats, but she had no interest in treats when the leash was on.

What does she want more than treats? To go forward. So, the "treat" became going forward. She pulls, I stop. She stops and eventually eases back just a bit. I click and take one step forward. Repeat. Eventually, I would ask her to turn and look at me, then step toward me, then come to stand in front of me, before moving again. This worked, to an extent. We learned ping-pong. Sasha pulls, we stop, she leaps back toward me, I click and step, she jumps to the end of the leash.

I realize, I have taught this jump-forward, jump-back: she can't release the leash unless it's taut. So I try clicking the moment between the first click and when she hits the end of the leash, for "loose leash", however short it lasts. By this method (which we practiced for 2 blocks tonight, only), gets us from one loose-leash step to about 4. For the second of those two blocks, I can't get any farther. There's no way to reward her for keeping the leash loose for any length of time, since she is already walking, which is the reinforcement. "Loose leash" in this case, means that Sasha is still bouncing around like a pinball, but managing to confine it to the "loose leash" area around me for a limited time.

I get frustrated and decide to turn home. I have an empty water bottle by this time, and decide to put it in my pocket for the walk back. In my pocket are treats, which Cyrus refused to eat on his frustrating attempt at a walk. I hadn't even offered them to Sasha, because she doesn't eat treats on walks.

Sasha hears the crinkle of the plastic bag and gets excited. I offer a treat and she eats it, happy to wait for more. Hmm... I take a couple of steps, she pads along beside me, keeping her eye on me. Click for that, and we walk a bit more as she eats her treat. For the first half-block, I click her every time her mouth is empty, since she is making no effort to drift outside the magic zone of close-enough-to-feed. Then I wait until she begins to think treat time is over and looks around her. Click for walking close, loose-leash, while looking straight ahead. When she is looking ahead reliably, I wait a beat more. She expects me to click, so she looks back to see why I don't. Click for checking back in with me as we walk. By the time we're near home, she is walking close, checking in frequently, and keeping control of herself.

Interesting things I noticed... She needed the earlier training to teach her enough self-control to accept the later training with treats. An unexpected bonus to the ping-pong-ball lesson was that a tight leash is now a signal for Sasha to turn back toward me. In the last stages of our walk, as I was letting her sniff around, she would occasionally follow a scent to the end of her leash. When she hit the end, instead of straining, she immediately turn around and checked in with me.

Karen Pryor is my hero.