Wednesday, April 4, 2012

New commitments

Susan Garrett has a great website, blog, and newsletter.  You have to subscribe to read the newsletter, but it's well worth it the trouble it takes to input your email and then click on the confirm link.

I don't get spam from her - just really well thought out articles that are always timely for something that me and Tess are going through.

The last newsletter talked about "triggers" - an unspoken language/behavior/body language between you and your dog that is fun, motivating, and relationship building.  I was doing them unconciously because it was fun (raising my eyebrows at her for example, when she stared at me, because I knew she found it stimulating and she would instantly come over and check me out) but now that I recognized the value of installing "triggers" I use them all the time throughout the day.  It's a way of making myself really run and unpredictable to Tess, and as a result she's super focused on me, even in potentially distracting situations.  For example, I might inhale sharply and dash down the hall, inviting a game of chase.  Or I might throw my hands up in the air inviting her to jump with me.  It's a way of focusing attention without toys or treats and reminds both of us that it's the strength of our bond and relationship - not which particular toy or treat I happen to have in my pocket that matters.

Today I had a dismal training session, probably one of the worst ones I've had in the past month.  It wasn't because she was naughty or zoomie - but her motivation was low, she was distractable, and left the area several times.  She just seemed bored with the whole thing. Even though she was super excited about tug and the toy, she was kinda faking it.

I salvaged it as best I could and evaluated what went wrong.  My hypothesis was:  We had been working poles every day prespay, and once she was able to do them again post-spay, have continued to do them every day.  I'm drilling her too much.  We do the same thing every day - poles: because they are sexy and I find them fun.  My solution was: give her 2 days off and just play, making sure she has off leash play time with other dogs.  Have fun, no obstacles.

After reading the newsletter that was in my inbox this evening, I immediately realized that I need to make several changes to my program.  None of the concepts are new....rather they are concepts that I follow for a while, and then gradually move back to my "M.O." - boring, predictable, drilling etc.  Practices that do NOT make Tess happy.  So here's a new commitment to working with Tess that I know works! 

1.  Avoid unnecessary timeouts (have all the equipment and treats in place before bringing her out for a session), but use them when I need to (like when she decides to leave the area - don't stand there like a date that's been stood up plantively calling her name....)

2.  Don’t reward grey areas - make criteria black and white and don't reward "close".  (When teaching something of course, shaping etc, criteria "moves" as the dog progresses).   The dog shutting down, zoomies, leaving work area etc. can be because of stress/confusion of rewarding inconsistent criteria.

3.  Plan training sessions to include skills that are brand new, developing, and well known.  I'm bad about only focusing on one skill.

4.  For dogs that you are building drive - sessions last for less than a minute.  SET A TIMER.   In all cases, keep sessions shorter than 5 minutes.   How many times do I have to remind myself of this???????

5.  Do a balance break/joy break/relationship building (with the 5 games) every 3-5 treats.  I'm good about taking breaks - but based on this recommendation I'm not doing them nearly as often enough.

I suppose I should be grateful that Tess focuses as well as she does, considering the amount of time I require her to focus on a task!  Hopefully by breaking it up more often and setting a timer, we'll both find a lot more joy in our sessions and drive/motivation will go back up. 

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