Sunday, April 20, 2014

Nala's New Tricks

Yesterday Kim called me just as I finished running on my Rebounder to see if Nala and I would like to accompany her and August to one of our local malls for some stair work. Of course I did so I started getting ready.
Just in case you don't know, August is one of the Leader Dog puppies in training in the prison program. Kim has taken him out while Kayla stays in. Both pups get some quality training in this arrangement; at least they do in my opinion.
As I got ready, my brain whirled around and around. I'm not very good at staying still or focusing on small tasks, like blow drying my hair. As I squirted hair product into my palm, my brain not zoned in on what I was doing, the cap went flying across the floor. I heard it bounce, but couldn't pin point where it had stopped rolling. Just out of curiosity I said, "Nala get it" and pointed in the general direction of the escaped lid. She paused for a minute then happily pranced over to the lid, I heard her teeth click on plastic.
"good girl," I tried to say calmly. I was excited, but getting over excited with Nala often means she gets over excited and results in the task not working out.
"Nala come" I said stretching my flat palm towards her. As she got closer I said "leave it" and she spit the lid out into my outstretched palm.
I was slightly stunned.
We had a party. This was the time for over excitement.
Where had she learned this trick?
Realistically, I don't think she learned the trick in the traditional sense. I think Nala has a natural tendency to retrieve things. I've noticed it with my slippers. If she gets home from somewhere, or if I get home and she hasn't come, she races about excitedly and grabs my slippers. She never chews them. Just parades around proudly. I started sticking the slippers one inside the other so that when she does this I can ask her to "leave it" and she delivers my paired slippers to me.
I've come to realise that some behaviours are better managed and directed in a way that you like instead of trying to constantly correct something that comes so naturally to the dog. I wish I had figured this out when I worked with Jetta. I think our working relationship would have been much different. Not that it wasn't a wonderful partnership because it was, but I think she would have enjoyed working more if I had discovered this earlier on. I have to thank that dog for making future working dogs' of mine jobs much easier.
Knowing that Nala could bring me my slippers, I tried it out on the lid. It certainly may not have worked, but it was a chance I was willing to take. I wasn't undoing any kind of training and I wouldn't have been upset with her if she hadn't understood my random suggestion to go get the lid for me. I was just stringing cues together that she already knew with her own natural tendency and she figured it out. I think this is the difference between dogs who are taught to think for themselves-clicker trained dogs are like this-and dogs who aren't. I'm not entirely sure that this wasn't a fluke either. Maybe the lid was a tempting object and she would have picked it up anyway. However, if that is the case, at least it turned into a positive situation where I didn't have to chase her down to get it.
try to always avoid the "chase game" at all costs.
Nala's next amazing stunt was also a bit of a surprise.
Since the guys had taught her "leg," which has the dog return to your left side in a beautiful swirling formation, I had been using the cue. I didn't want to waste the hard work they had put in. I wasn't really using the word though as they had said it wasn't down pat yet and also because I hadn't been the one to teach it to her. She may not have known how to generalise the cue to me yet. So, all I would do was pat my left leg and wait for her to swivel into position. Most times it worked on the first pat.
Again, my curiosity got the best of me as I was still rushing about, getting ready to go out with Kim and August. I was standing in our upstairs hallway which is a bit narrow. it was a place that could potentially force Nala into the position that I wanted. Perhaps "force is the wrong word. The wall would be more of a guide. She wasn't wearing her leash so I checked her position by touching her head. I pretended like  I was just petting her. I've learned from Hermione that touching them too much to "check" can turn into them figuring out you can't see them; better to disguise it as an ear scratch.
Nala was standing facing me; perfect. I stepped to move my right side as close to the opposite wall as possible in order to give her as much room as I could; still thinking the left wall would serve as  a guide   i patted my left leg and waited. She didn't move. I patted again, but this time used the cue,
"leg" I asked her.
Slowly but surely she took a few steps forward, did a little pivot and swung into a beautiful heel" position.
We had a party.
Not only had she [performed  the cue perfectly, but she had done it leash free. I really am so lucky to have a dog who is so willing to learn and who loves working. I'm also lucky that I have some great dog trainers who took the time to teach her "leg" for me.
Our outing with August and Kim was great. Poor August was beside himself with Nala's beauty. He was just smitten, but he tried hard to do what Kim asked him to do. Whenever the opportunity arose to have Nala do "leg" I asked her in order  to try and reinforce the cue.
Both dogs worked well considering how busy the mall was. August was a bit enthusiastic and struggled with loose leash walking, but I think it's because he is a teenage boy who is smitten. His sit/down/stays were all beautiful and he did let Kim know at one point that he had to go out to "park." What a good boy. His "leave it" is spot on too when he needed reminding. Kim stayed on him and one circuit of the busy mall was enough for all of us. We settled in for our usual coffee chat and both dogs settled in under the table quite nicely.
It was a pretty impressive day all around.

1 comment:

pattib said...

LOVE that thinking dog! What a good girl Nala is. And nice reinforcement from you. Thanks for sharing this!