Saturday, March 27, 2010

Saturdays are for Frolicking

Saturdays are clearly designed for frolicking. Especially sunny Saturdays. It turned out to be a fun walk. There were enough distractions to keep me occupied and challenged but not so many as to overwhelm me. These long walks are actually thinly disguised training experiences. Today I got to practice "leave it," "sit and stay," "focus," "stop," and "follow me."

"Leave it" is probably one of the more useful skills I have. For example, there were children rolling down the hill. I thought this was great fun. Children are, after all, just little puppies in my eyes. I wanted to roll down the hill with them. Jason said "leave it" and I begrudgingly listened to him. It was hard since the kids were so exciting to me. At one point there was a bunch of pigeons off into the distance. Jason say me watching them getting ready to run. He said leave it and I changed my mind and did something else. The only reason I was able to do this was the experiences I've had the hundred other times we've practiced "leave it."

He actually caught me looking at the birds. Here I am giving them a curious stare. They looked rather tasty to me--both in terms of playing and eating. Living with a parrot at home I'm always thinking about how delectable a bird would be but I never get to taste one. I didn't this time either.

Anyway, Jason started this training when I was a little puppy. He'd have two things that I was interested in: perhaps two plastic lids with a little bit of peanut butter on it, two different tug toys, or some similar combination. He'd give me one of the objects and let me enjoy it; he'd say leave it and take it away. Repeat, repeat, repeat. I learned that even thought I have to give up something I like, I end up getting something else enjoyable in return for my cooperation. Jason has also done this a lot around meal times. He puts my dish down and says leave it. At first he'd take the food away if I went for it. Then I learned to just sit and wait (and wait, and wait, and wait). I also get to practice this useful task in dog class. Maureen leaves big bowls out in the middle of the classroom and puts a couple of tasty morsels inside each bowl. We practice walking by and leaving it. That's super hard!

"Stop" is another useful thing I've learned. This was less than fun when Jason first introduced it. When I'm out in a safe area, I get to run around without anyone holding onto my leash. My leash is very long: nine feet I'm told. I would be running around and Jason would suddenly say "stop" in a loud voice. As he did it, he'd step on my leash. I got the picture pretty fast: I was supposed to stop moving as soon as I heard the word "stop." I'm not super compliant with this one--I run a little before I decide I'm going to listen. Still, I do a remarkable job for a nine month old puppy. This skill just might save my life.

Jason practices this one a lot while we are out on walks. For example, when I'm running with a stick or a ball, he'll occasionally say "stop!" I will in return occasionally stop moving. It's harder to do than you think. You try stopping when you are playing. You won't want to!

It's not so bad though. Jason never yells at me if I don't stop. This is important. If I'm in an emergency situation (running out into traffic, walking into some other dangerous sort of situation) Jason is going to really need me to stop. If I associate this with getting into trouble, I'm more likely going to run than stop. The same goes for the "come" command. Never yell at your dog or discipline them in any way if they do not come. It's counter productive. If you are mad at your dog and they end up listening to you, and you yell or punish them when they get to you, they are going to avoid you. The "stop" or "come" command becomes very counterproductive when your dog starts running away from you when you use either of this commands.

Are you paying attention? Never ever punish your dog when they come after you call them or stop after you tell them to.

"Focus" is another fun skill. Jason has been practicing this with me since the day I came home. He catches me looking at him, he says focus, I get a reward. Over and over again this has happened. For awhile I was good at this. No matter what I was doing if he said "focus" I'd stop the activity I was engaged in and look at him. Being an adolescent I pretend that I can't hear him most of the time. My other favorite trick is to look at him while I keep doing whatever it was I was doing. For example, I might be barking out the window and Jason will say "focus." I will look at him out of the corner of my eye while still barking. Aren't I creative?

I have a feeling Jason is going to persevere. While I might not always listen to him, I do more often than not. This is a useful command to distract me away from something that (a) might get me in trouble or (b) is getting me in trouble.

It's also really useful for picture taking. I happened to be listening to him when he took this picture. I was also exhausted, which helps too. I had spent an hour running back and forth across a field.

The last command we worked on while playing today was "sit" and "stay." This one is challenging. I'm very good at sitting. I've gotten to practice this one a million times. I walk in the door and I sit. I go out the door and I sit. I get ready to eat and I sit. I get out of the car and I sit. I get tired of hearing it! The whole stay part, now that is more of a challenge. Being a puppy I am easily distracted. Who wants to "sit" and "stay" when there are other puppies, people, or ice cream cones around? I know I don't want to sit and stay.

For some bizarre reason Jason thinks I should learn this. I'm a good sport. We practice when clients come into the office. I walk to do the door with Jason and sit. I stay (or at least try to) when clients settle down onto the couch. I wait patiently (with variable success) until Jason says "okay." Then I leap onto the couch and lavish lots of puppy kisses on whoever just walked in the door. Oops. I don't think I'm supposed to do that.

I can only work on one thing at a time!

I also practice sit and stay at class. We all practice on our own levels. Some dogs sit and stay while their owners actually walk out the door. Other dogs practice sit and stay while their owners slowly walk around their dog in small circles. Other people, like Maureen, ask their dogs to sit and stay while dancing around, dropping things, and generally having a good time. All of this teaches us dogs to sit through all sorts of different distractions.

My favorite way to practice "sit" and "stay" is in the context of my playtime. I like sticks. I like chasing sticks. I also like balls. And you guessed it, I like chasing them too. Jason steps on my long leash, gets my attention, says "sit" and "stay" and then launches my toy out into the distance. I can't go anywhere since he's stepping on my leash. That helps reinforce the "stay" idea. When he says "okay" I run after the toy in question. Since I'm having so much fun I bring it back to Jason. This is bonus training as I'm also learning "come" at the same time.

Remind me sometime to blog about how I learned to come when I am called. That was big fun! Anyway, for now I'll leave you with a couple of video clips of a sort of sit-stay-okay. Jason was having trouble being both dog trainer and camera operator.

In this second video, Jason is demonstrating where he takes me when he wants to really tire me out. He throws a toy down the hill. I make a mad dash down the hill, get the toy, and come back up. We repeat until I'm tired. As you can tell from the total lack of spring in my step, I'm totally exhausted here.