Monday, October 17, 2011

The line...

...between success and failure is mighty thin. 

And often, whether an incident is a success or a failure is up to you and your actions. 

As you know, I've been working diligently on something I call "the recall" project.  Approximately 60 recalls a day in highly controlled situations, broken into several sessions a day, all with the aim of creating a VERY positive association with the word "check" with progressively high levels of distraction. 

I'm going to preen a bit and let you know that it is going really really well.  Well enough that I've let her start playing with Reed, her very very very best friend in the whole wide world, because (at least in the house) she'll leave her play and come to me!  Amazing! 

So, with this kind of success "banked", why oh why did a situation more reminiscent of our "pre-clicker" days unfold on Sunday? 

Because I turned what could have been a success - Tess recalling to me, even while she zoomed around the dog park like a puppy on meth - into a failure. 

Instead of standing up straight, saying "check" and then engaging her in a fun game of "chase the Melinda", I turned into a hooting chimpanzee.

I may have spluttered out a feeble "come", but mostly ran around, arms outstretched, hunched over, playing "chase the Tess". 

Intellectually I KNEW the right thing to do was catch her eye and run in the opposite direction.  Practically, it seemed impossible and predictably, my fear she wouldn't come to me turned into a self-fulfilling prophesy.  Imagine that. 

As I sat on the grass, my disgraced puppy cuddled in my arms (looking VERY happy I might add, with no understanding that she may have shaved at least 5 years off my life) my instant impulse was to:
  • Swear that she would never ever ever get to go off leash until her recall was perfect.
  • Restrict her freedom even more - insist that she be perfect on a leash before ever giving her the chance at freedom again.  
W came over and proposed a very different solution.

Give Tess more freedom.  Stop acting like a monkey.

She suggested that if *I* responded appropriately to Tess's freedom, Tess in turn would respond appropriately to me when she had freedom. 

Tess has proved she has a good recall - she's not ready for total freedom in all situations, but restricting her freedom more and more, even while she's offering a better and better recall is unfair.  Freedom is important to Tess - the ultimate reward.  Being too stingy with it will lead to Tess feeling as if she needs to "steal" that freedom whenever she has a chance.  Far better that she is given it as a reward for her offering good behavior and giving her "choices" as she earns more and more freedom. 

It's scary.  I freely admit that I'm a control freak.  I love my puppy dearly.  The idea of her laying broken and bloody in the road and it being my fault is absolutely devastating.  One of problems is that I can't even imagine her being good and responsive - my mind can only imagine the worse.  Even though realistically she hasn't really given me any reason NOT to believe that if I act appropriately, that she won't. 

At the end of the puppy play session, we finished up with some agility skills on the playground equipment.  My bold and independent puppy flew up an almost vertical wall (an "A" frame) and then tossed herself down a covered slide. 

Looking very proud of herself, she decided to go UP the slide and then she took a flying leap off the equipment.  She stood there, about 15 feet away, looking at me for approval of her new found agility skills. 

My first thought was to lunge towards her and grab the leash that I had left dangling from her collar. 

I moved towards her like a monkey.

She eyed me as if to say "play chase?".

I caught myself.

The line between success and failure is thin.  Whether we succeed or fail will be dependent on how I react to what she offers.  

I stood up straight.

I yelled "Good Tess!" and moved away, looking over my shoulder invitingly. 

She smiled and bolted TOWARDS me, sitting in front and looking up at me expectantly.

I have a good puppy. 

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