Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Training Days

If you recall I rambled on a while back about whether or not we were going to put Aria into the Intermediate obedience class and what Balloo's fate would be. Mr. K and I have decided to put her in the class and I would train the basics with Balloo and use that as an opportunity as a refresher for Aria and to reinforce obedience cues she already knows. I've been keeping a training journal for each session so that I have a reference for the future. Not only for Aria and Balloo's future training days, but just in case we decide to get other dogs and enter them in obedience trials. The journal also makes me train on a regular basis. If I check the journal and see that the date from the last session is more than a day or two old, I feel guilty and bust out the clicker and treats.
Our first session went pretty good, if I do say so myself. I introduced the clicker to Balloo and reloaded it for Aria. (Loading the clicker means that you "click" and then feed as many tasty treats as you can to your dog. You do this for about ten to fifteen clicks, or longer if you think your dog isn't getting it). I thought Balloo might be a bit nervous with the loud noise since he is a bit more sensitive than Aria is, but he did great. I reviewed some cues with Aria, like "sit," "watch me" and "down." Our trainer suggested that you start with "watch me" because it is a foundation cue. Your dog can't do the things you want it to if it is not paying attention to you. The "watch me" can re-direct its eyes to your face if it gets distracted. Balloo didn't do so well with this. His face was all over the place and I couldn't hold him in a "watch me" for longer than two seconds. That said, I would hold it for two seconds and then click and treat, letting him know that I wanted his eyes on me, regardless of how short it was. I vowed to practice "watch me" in our daily activities. I always ask my dogs to sit before meals and they are to remain in that position until I say "all right." Balloo was good at "sit" because of this, so I figured that if I did "sit" and then "watch me" at meal times I would be able to improve the length of time he could hold "watch me." I was right. When we did "watch me" yesterday, he was able to hold it for twenty seconds consistently. Much better. But as I moved to the next cue, "down," I realised that I had a new learning curve. He won't do it. He won't even make the movement to do it.
Now this is not uncommon with Dachshunds. "Down" is a very submissive position and the fierce nature of the Dachshund makes them less inclined to get into that position. Not to mention, they don't have far to go with their short little legs I suppose they don't feel as if they need to lie down to get the treat when they can reach it by just lowering their nose to the ground. I performed the motion of tracing the treat from his nose slowly down to the floor between his front paws the way I was taught, but all he would do was drop his nose and try to nibble the kibble from between my fingers. I even did the scooting it out across the floor in the hopes of enticing him into a "down," but no go. I stopped trying and tried a few more "sits" and "watch me's" to finish up the session on a positive note. I could tell he was getting confused and I was getting frustrated and I want training to be fun and a positive bonding experience.
I guess I have to say that I am not surprised. Aria refused to do "down" when she was in puppy class. It took me working with her every day for a week straight to get her to go "down." I will just have to keep it up with Balloo. I don't think I will add a new cue this week until "down" looks like it is going in the right direction. That is, Balloo's elbows moving toward the floor would be nice. :)
As for Aria, she is a star. Our first training session we reviewed a few cues, as I said above, and she did pretty well. She would only "down" every second time though and so I started doing "down" with every second meal to improve her word/action association. When we practised it yesterday, she performed "down" every time and without hesitation. I am so proud of her. I will continue to work on the basics with her, but I think the next cue for improvement is "stay." I tested her "stay" a bit yesterday to get a feel for where she is and how much work we need to do. It's okay, but as soon as I stop paying attention to her, she breaks her "stay." I want her to be so good that I can put her in a "sit" or "down" stay and be able to turn to Balloo and give him a cue and she still be there for me to "release" her. I think she can do it. I think I will have to start with improving stay while I am watching, then slowly turn myself away for short periods of time-like two or three seconds at a time-and then slowly extend that time. Eventually, we will be at the point where I can be with Balloo for a few minutes and she won't move. Well, at least that is my hope.
It seems our training is moving right along. And I say "our" training because this is as much of an exercise for me as it is for my dogs. If something doesn't go the way I planned it, I have to practice patience and some creative thinking to figure out why Balloo or Aria just won't do what I am asking. Often dogs won't do what they are asked due to human error, so this is definitely a learning experience for me.
What about Glacier? I work on obedience with him as well. Leader Dogs for the Blind, and I think most guide dog schools for that matter, encourage us to do obedience with our dogs every day even after we've bonded. It keeps the dog sharp and listening to the handler. It also gives the working team a few minutes of bonding time in an otherwise busy day where you might forget to pay enough attention to the good things they are doing. It's easy to ignore a good dog because they are quiet and not grabbing your attention; out of sight, out of mind. This is when we should praise them the most. It is easy for us to notice a misbehaving dog and try to correct it. Why not praise the good behavior before it becomes an unwanted behavior and you spend most of your time correcting your dog? That sort of thing doesn't contribute to a positive, strong bond. This is something I have to remind myself of all of the time. Especially being blind, sometimes it is hard to notice a good dog. Sometimes I don't even know where the dog is if it is lying down somewhere quietly. I have to remember to make an effort to stop and praise Glacier or even Roscoe when I am rushing about the house with laundry or cleaning. I guess what I am trying to say is, don't just let sleeping dogs lie: praise them. They, and you, will be glad you did. :)

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