I'm pretty sure that is what Glacier was thinking last night when I asked him to put his nose to my open, outstretched, flat palm.
Last night I held my first training session with Glacier and Roscoe for the "touch " cue. Both boys were a bit confused as they've never been asked to do anything quite like it before, but they were both eager to learn: that might have been because I had tasty kibble stored in a treat pouch attached to my waist. The first training session went, for a lack of a better word, interestingly. I can already tell this is going to be a huge learning experience for me as well and that is kind of exciting.
Last night I spent a few minutes getting the boys used to my hand being near their faces. I rubbed the bridge of their noses and put my palm close to the end of their snouts. After they didn't seemed to be too bothered by it, which didn't take long, I began presenting my open palm to them. I began by running my fingers down their snouts to the end of their noses and then leaving the open palm there for them. If they made any movement to sniff, or moved in the slightest towards the hand that was basically pushed up against their nose, I treated and praised like crazy. Leader Dog for the Blind do not train their dogs on a clicker or treating basis. They have several reasons for not using treats, such as, not wanting the dogs to get too over weight, blind people need their hands to see and so if we are using our hands to treat instead of putting it out to see what the dog found, it could be dangerous and other such things. I'm not saying either method is wrong: I think it's more of a handler's preference. LDB doesn't forbid us from switching to the clicker nor do they refuse to allow us to reward our dogs with treats. In fact, sometimes it's encouraged when you are patterning a dog to a specific location such as a chair or a particular classroom on campus. Anyway, I digress. I didn't use the clicker with the boys. I didn't want them to get used to it as Mr. K and I do not use them, but I certainly did bust out the kibble. Back to my nose rubbing.
The reason I moved from the bridge of their noses to the end was for as much their benefit as mine. First, I thought it would help Glacier and Roscoe get a better idea of what I wanted. If I was touching their nose, would that possibly make them more inclined to use it? The second reason was to help me locate the end of each wet nose to ensure I wasn't confusing them. Everything I have read says to only move the palm sideways, up or down if the dog has learned to touch your hand with it right out in front. I didn't want to skip steps unintentionally. The nose stroking seemed to work. It gave me an accurate focal point every time, and I noticed as the training session continued, that it helped the boys focus on me better. As Mr. K and I are both totally blind, Glacier and Roscoe are used to being touched for a lot of things and me touching them during this experiment didn't seem to change the outcome negatively.
Another thing I want to go back to is something I said earlier about the boys having to do something they ad never done before. That statement isn't entirely true. If you think about it, Glacier and Roscoe know a more advanced form of targeting without the "touch" cue being a building block. This makes me wonder why it wasn't taught in the first place. When Glacier finds a curb when I ask him to, or when Mr. K says to Roscoe "find a chair," and Roscoe finds it, this, in my humble opinion, is targeting-just advanced targeting. So these guys know it. I just have to figure out how to get them to do it in the capacity I want them to. So, how do I get them there?
Last night I spent about ten to fifteen minutes working with Mr. G and Shaggy Dog. I know that is longer than is recommended, but I was working with both dogs at once. I wanted them to learn from each other. Watch one another perform what I asked them to. Guide dogs are very visual creatures, at least you hope they are. Well, I'm hoping they are and that there is method to my madness. They both did quite well and surprised me a bit. They were good if the hand was close to their noses. Neither of them wanted to come out of the "sit stay" to "touch" (which I am not saying yet by the way) and then be rewarded. This could be because when the boys get a treat just because they are good boys, or they are getting fed, they must be in a "sit stay" and they are not rewarded or get their food unless this position is maintained. To get past this, I may have to do some creative thinking. I could get them to "touch" if my palm was right in front and very close to the side. We worked on this for a while and when I thought they were ready to move on, I moved my hand out further. This was a no go. They both just sat their drooling and cocking their heads trying to figure what the hell I wanted them to do. So, back to up close and personal I went. I didn't push it anymore than that. I wanted that to get ingrained into their brains and wanted the session to end positively while we were all having fun and learning. In the morning we would try again and that is just what we did.
I feed the dogs twice a day. After eating, everyone gets water and then is put out to "potty" for the little ones and to "park" for our big guys. I decided that after meals would be a good time to train. This way, the little dogs are out and I can focus on the labradors. This also keeps Aria and Balloo from hopping on Glacier and Roscoe's faces or my legs because they want treats too. This morning went really well too. The interesting thing is, I think Roscoe is catching on faster. Either that or he is desperate to do anything for a kibble. Glacier still won't lift his bum off the floor. Roscoe, however, has no qualms about springing up and coming to me to nudge my palm. I think with Glacier I may have to start with him in a "stand" and hopefully that will break his habit. I also don't wonder if I might have to make Glacier's reward more enticing. I am thinking of using kibble for small actions, but the instant he gets his rear off the floor and moves towards me, I'll jack pot him with a gigantic cookie. I just know with the training that I have to let each dog do his thing. This is the challenging part and the learning curve for me. I have to remember where each dog is at and make sure I put the target (AKA my hand) right where that dog needs it. If Roscoe jumps out way ahead of Glacier, I may have to train them separately. I'm sure at some point, separate training sessions wouldn't be a bad thing anyway. That would give each dog a chance to have some more one on one time with a human. I know this would help mine and Glacier's bond.
The most interesting aspect of this whole thing so far though, is the change in their attitudes. Usually when the boys come back in from their morning "park" after breakfast, they head straight for their favourite sleeping spots and pass out for the morning. This morning, they came in and played for a bit; with me and each other. Roscoe was even playing with Aria. They seem happy and kind of proud of themselves. I may be just projecting, but I'm pretty sure there is a difference.
Wow. This has been much longer than I originally intended. I think it just became a way of me getting some thoughts out and formulating them a bit better. I should get going though because Grace from PAALS is coming to stay with us this weekend and I want to make sure the kennel is clean for her stay.
Thanks for sticking with me if you managed to read this whole thing. lol