It was another bright and early morning here at LDB. Cream of Wheat was part of our breakfast and although I normally don't like it, I poured some Maple Syrup over it and the world was right again. Glacier and I did two obedience sessions this morning, once in our room and one out in the "piano lounge." There is carpet in the piano lounge and a lot of smells to distract the dogs. Our room routine was perfect, but the piano lounge one left a bit to be desired. That said, it was much better than yesterday's and I saw it through to the end. One student came in and tried starting one with her dog, but gave up after her dog dropped to the floor, all four paws in the air.
Our outing this morning was to a department store called Myer. It is a chain that is present only in Michigan I think; or at least only in the Northern United States. It is similar to Walmart in that it has groceries, pet aisles, automotive parts, clothing and whatever else your heart could desire. Mr. K's mom always says,
"if you can't get it at Myer then you don't need it."
The students were instructed to sit in a little cafe just inside the doors to wait for their turn. Glacier and I wet last as we weren't doing the regular lessons. Usually this trip is used to teach students how to negotiate around the store using a dog and pulling a cart behind you. It is also the lesson where the cue "follow" is practiced. We did use our "follow" cue and I was shocked at Glacier's accuracy. He even refused to go through a small area that Richard squeezed past. Go, go intelligent disobedience. (Intelligent Disobedience is when the dog refuses to do what you ask it because it judges that you are incorrect and your decision would put you and the dog in danger). We worked through the store with Glacier's Newtricks on in order to keep him from stealing things. Richard was also testing theories that we have been throwing around and had me work Glacier with the leash in my right hand. J and I had discussed earlier this week that the correction hand makes Glacier shut down and this exercise confirmed it. I didn't totally grasp why Richard had us do this since we already knew leash corrections are only used in emergencies with Glacier, but I am assuming it was so that he could see Glacier's reaction for himself. Glacier didn't completely shut down, but he sure wasn't happy about me holding the leash in my right hand. Richard said we would have to be creative in order to correct Glacier's food distractions issues since we can't use traditional leash corrections. I've been thinking about it though since our return to the campus and I don't see why we can't use light ones. Glacier responds to these and also doesn't shut down. I'll have to bring that up this afternoon.
We tried a few different techniques in order to create our own way of correcting Glacier's food sniffing. The most interesting one consisted of me standing still, dropping the harness handle and saying "leave it." This was to get Glacier's attention back on me and turn his head back to me. It worked, but I'm not entirely sure how effective it will be in the future. Another form of correction that I sort of did insticntually was me just slapping my thigh sharply and saying "leave it" calmly. The sharp noise gets Glacier's attention back on me and also corrects the behavior. Richard did point out that the stand still/drop harness handle method was not as invasive as hard collar corrections and aren't as demonstrative. Meaning, people don't look at you like you are killing the dog. I have mixed feelings about all of this.
First of all, so what if the public stares at me for correcting my dog. If the correction is effective and both he and I are safe then they can think what they want. We already get stared at. I don't think this was Richard's main point though. His point was to come up with a way to correct Glacier without snapping the corrective collar.
I think that if this method works, then good, but it's kind of inconvenient. Stopping every time Glacier sniffs is slightly irritating. Slapping my thigh worked just as well and kept us moving. However, I think Glacier and I are an interesting case and LDB's training program is under construction so to speak, and we are a good experiment. I say "experiment away" if it means we leave here a good working team. It was an interesting morning to say the least. All I know is that the Newtricks may be a situational tool if Glacier's food distractions are the only thing we can't fix.
Richard also taught me a training method to teach dogs to walk straight down an aisle way or sidewalk. This technique would work is you have a willing sighted friend/relative and an area that you travel often and you need your dog to walk down the centre line. The handler uses the dog's harness handle as per normal and walks along. The sighted person walks near the dog's rear flank so the dog can still see, but so they can create a barrier that will stop the dog from drifting to the side; basically the handler and sighted person are sandwiching the dog without touching it. We could use this in grocery stores that we use regularly or something like that in order to keep Mr. G's nose off of the shelves. I think it's kind of neat that I am being involved in the training and being shown training techniques. It's always been something that has interested me, but part of me is screaming,
"just give me a fixed dog damnit! I don't want all of this fancy crap."
I think it may just be the mood I am in today because I know normally I would have found these things fascinating. I think I may talk to D or J after lunch today to get their perspective and maybe they can explain some of these techniques better to me. I guess I just don't understand why we are doing all of these fancy things if slapping my leg works? The apprentice instructor was following us again, so I believe that we are also a learning tool for her. That is kind of cool: if we can help make her be a better trainer, then I say,
"bring it on."
We headed back to the training centre down town this afternoon. We were allowed to pick from two routes and then we were sent out on our own to try to complete the route to the best of our ability. The instructors would be driving around in vans making sure that the students were safe. They carry walkie talkies and stay in contact that way, giving updates about the various teams they are watching. We were instructed to use our problem solving skills, concentrate on curbs and to trust our dogs. All very sound and useful advice; even for mine and Glacier's situation.
Glacier and I went out twice. The first route was about sixteen blocks and we both did really good. I didn't have to use one leash correction and he didn't jump a single curb. He did slow down at one part and seemed a bit cautious, but I just encouraged him through and we were off again. I was so proud of me because the old reaction would have been me grabbing that leash, giving a big correction and telling him "forward" assertively. This time, I did grab the leash but only to point in the direction I wanted and jiggled it a bit while happily telling him "straight." We were back too fast so J wasn't able to traffic check us. Hopefully we'll work on that on Monday as tomorrow we're heading to the mall in the morning to avoid the rain that is in the forecast. Glacier and I did run across one of the students from Spain working with her dog Ivy. I don't know any Spanish and walked behind her for a bit trying to figure out how to pass her without causing too much of a problem. I even stopped twice in the attempt to put some space between us, but I would always catch up. Eventually, I said "excuse me" and "sorry" and ran past her. She seemed to know that Glacier and I were behind her and didn't get confused or turned around because we past. I knew she was having problems with the route as J and the translator had stopped in the van to help her out. I didn't want to get her dog all excited and then have her get lost. When I asked J after our training session, he said that she had been fine.
The second time around we only went six blocks because I wanted to get Glacier to do something different to ensure he wasn't on auto pilot. The shorter route also allowed me to concentrate more on him than on him and try to remember how many streets we had crossed. He did great. I did use one leash correction when he was overly distracted by a woman and her pet dog, but Glacier didn't shut down.
I also had a chat with D after lunch about everything I am learning and how overwhelmed I feel. She said that was understandable and she confirmed that they were just trying to give me tools for problem solving when I get to the UK. She was incredibly supportive and understanding and I felt a lot better after talking with her. She told me that the changes in training methods are even confusing for her since she's been at it for 23 years. So, it's nice to know that it's not just me feeling a bit overwhelmed. Regardless, we had two very good work sessions today and emotional roller coasters are to be expected along this journey: my first trips through LDB weren't without ups and downs either. I'm looking forward to seeing how Glacier does in the mall tomorrow. Can you imagine twelve dogs turned loose in a mall on a rainy Saturday? Can we say people distractions? :)