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. 

Puppy play notes 10/16/11

For more explanation on Puppy Play Note posts, see this post here

1.  Can you do it in a box?  Building on last week's "cue vs verbal", we discussed going one step further - can you do it in a box?  The concept is to be able to give a verbal cue, even out of sight in a box, and have them obey.  After confession time (J snaps her fingers, I clap during my recall....), our little group went through all our verbal cues without any physical ones, to see how many our dogs would obey on verbal only.  Tess's list of verbal cues is very short - sit, down, pout, check (come).  So we ran through our list very fast.  The good news?  Provided that the distraction level isn't too high, Tess will respond to these verbal cues with understanding.  The pout is our weakest - which isn't surprising considering it is the newest verbal cue!  This week I am focusing on reinforcing the understanding of the verbal cues of sit and down, by saying the cue as I walk forward for example.  I started this morning - as I walked forward I said "sit" - the expectation that she would immediately sit as I continued to move away.  Sit is better than down, and she seems interested in our new "game".  :)

2.  Paws on the bowl - the next step.  Tess now puts her feet on an overturned bowl and can rotate around the bowl.  By dropping my shoulder and inviting her "in" I can have her start the hip "swing" as she moves into a correct finish or side position.  Starting working on this concept this morning. 
  4. Restrained Recalls  The group played with doing "self restrained recalls" with a long line around a pole.  It takes a surprisingly large amount of coordination.....I promptly forgot my cue for a recall and generally tripped over my own feet.  Other recall concepts discussed:
  • Don't use the dog's name when teaching the recall - the name is an attention getter, not a recall or a release.
  • Say it once and don't "change" the command.
  • If the dog isn't looking at you during restrained recalls, you are too far away - move closer until you have the dogs attention and work from there.  
  • Don't lean over, clap your hands etc.  Stand up straight, say it, and keep your dogs attention - movement, moving closer before asking etc.  
  • Can incorporate a collar grab game into the recall game if you would like.
  • If you are teaching a sit in front in conjunction with the recall, you can let the dog nibble at the treat, grab the collar as the dog sits, and then feed the treat. 

5.  Giving a bit of freedom.  Tess broke her collar when she was tied to a pole on the outside of "play" (we were rotating through dogs doing restrained recalls).  She promptly took off in the "puppy runs" and ran around the unfenced dog park, generally having a blast.  I promptly forgot everything we had been working on and ran around frantically that was later aptly described as a "monkey" - my arms hanging down, hunched over, making strange grunting noises.  After someone had managed to grab my puppy and I hauled her back over to the pole, W explained me that I need to start giving Tess some freedom.  She has a good recall if I remember and follow some basic principles - don't engage in chase, don't hunch over, don't change my recall command - and the best time to experiment with a bit of freedom is during these group sessions when there are lots of people and lots of her friends to act as an anchor.  If I don't let her have any "freedom" and thus the choice to interact with me during "freedom", she will take advantage of any freedom to bolt.  I had a chance to experiment with giving her some off leash freedom (with great success) later on in the play session, but I'm doing a whole 'nother post on what I learned so I won't say anything else right now. 

This covers our "homework" from the puppy play group.  See the updated skills list on the top of the webpage if you are interested in everything we are working on. 

General notes: I was having a "bad" puppy day, had a slight headache, and was in one of those moods all day where I was annoyed at Tess for the most stupid things.  Wasn't Tess's fault at all (of course) and as usual, most of our problems or progress roadblocks relate to my cue or my body language.  It's so encouraging to meet with a group that can give me feedback - I don't stay "stuck" for long and I'm reminded that I DO have a good puppy, that she IS improving, and we ARE headed in the right direction.