Thursday, July 19, 2012
Making an effort
This is getting very old but Blogger seems determined that there shall be no paragraphs ever again. My sincere apologies for this glitch, especially on a fairly long post. Much of the emphasis of Phoenix’s training this summer revolves around asking him for effort. How much effort does he have to make before he gets a cookie? It’s so easy to pop our dogs a cookie after every little thing that in no time you can create a dog with a huge sense of entitlement. This soon turns into the all too familiar “no cookie, no workie” that many of us have encountered. I think I also managed to teach him that cookies were affirmation that he was doing what I wanted. From his point of view, the absence of cookies in the ring was a startling and sad situation. I had clearly not taught him to value the interaction with me (per Susan Garrett, become the cookie) but had relied on poking food at him as a suitable reward. The praise I thought I’d been giving was not enough. Something Denise Fenzi mentioned at her seminar was being “big” with your praise, especially in environments where the tendency may be to become very quiet and “small.” Having a handler who is acting “small” can cause a dog who is worried or depressed in a show environment to become even more so. Not unexpectedly, weaning ME off the cookie habit has been a bigger issue than I anticipated. I still want to feed him a lot but I’m getting much better at asking for genuine effort (making skills slightly more demanding, stringing multiple skills together) before the food and play come. Play is important. Play is effort. Playing tug is effort. Playing with me without any toy probably represents the most effort because there’s no THING that’s driving the play session. It’s just me and Phoenix. When he really turns on and plays with ME it’s a wonderful high. It has taken a lot of effort on my part to figure out how to ask him for more effort. Training for longer sessions or drilling over and over would certainly require more effort but that’s not the approach I wanted. Here are some examples of things we’re doing: • Articles: working a double set. I put out 20 articles instead of 8. At first he was convinced this was entirely too much work and did a couple of grab-and-goes. When that didn’t get him anywhere, he settled down and worked. You can also set a lawn chair in the middle of the pile or scatter some cardboard boxes around the article pile. Put the scented article under the chair, on the chair seat or in a box. Next time, put the scented article in the regular pile. • Heeling: this is our biggie. The dog who gave me 40 point heeling in Novice had deteriorated to just going through the motions. Clearly heeling was boring him half to death. Marching around a building doing forwards, halts, turns and speeds was not going to fix it. Now when we heel, I ask for leaps, spins, 180s, 360s, shove him backwards and run so he has to catch up and suddenly release him and have him chase his tail or roll over. It’s a bloody lot of effort on my part to break the marching habit. On the figure 8, we go right first (oh, the absolute YEARS of training I’ve had to overcome in order to not reflexively step off to the left!) A lot of time during this heelwork, Phoenix is not in perfect heel position. Do I care? Not really. This isn’t about perfect heel position - it’s about driving to stay with me and he’s doing that. When he gets there and everything is right with the world, then I release him. • Signals: doing unexpected things, like doing the signals out of order and asking for additional “tricks” while Phoenix is at a distance (chase your tail, roll over, back up, etc.) Not only does this require more physical effort than the mind-numbing monotony of down-sit-come, it also requires mental effort to stay engaged to see what comes next. • Dumbbell: I put Phoenix on a stay about 40 feet away with the dumbbell between us. When I tell him to get it, I run toward him. If I get to the dumbbell first (okay, this happened exactly once), I grab it and have a party. Of course now he thinks it’s a fun game (albeit kinda stupid cuz the slow human NEVER wins). • Gloves: turn to Glove #1 and mark Glove #2 or vice versa. Is he actually marking the correct glove or just taking whichever one is visually most appealing? • Drop on recall: after the initial drop, I ask him to drop again. This is a game he’s been taught. He’ll back up, still in the drop. I keep asking him to drop and he keeps backing up. At some point, he’ll start barking at me. I am not terribly concerned about the bark transferring to the ring. • Cue word: constantly, constantly, constantly making sure he’s in drive, up, bright, engaged, alert and maybe just a little pushy and bossy before we start any exercise.