Saturday, September 29, 2012

My Dog For The Win

WatchfulI haven't had Scooter Snacks in the house since well before I left for Italy. I finally got some this morning and was quickly reminded of the contradictory effect they have on my dog. On the one hand he will do anything for a Scooter Snack. There is, truly, no better training tool (as long as crumbs aren't a factor so they don't work for agility) because Ed will use all his power to deduce what I'm asking for. The other side of the coin is that he loves them so much that he will just rapid fire start throwing stuff out until his tiny mind explodes in hopes of getting the all-important Snack of Scooter. Today I asked for a sit and down then opened the door to the fridge. The moment the paper bag crinkled he sprang from a down straight up in the air about three feet. Then he spun around. When I closed the bag he hit the ground in a sit and slammed into down, eyes glued to me. I detected a whiff of smoke in the air as his eyes bored holes straight through me. I asked for a stay and he did while I closed the bag, the appliance and gently placed the snack on the ground about 3 feet in front of him. Then I released him and he motored off to munch that cookie of bliss in the living room.

We've been out of the training loop for a while. I've been traveling and we had some bad weather so tomorrow will be our first class in three or four months. The long stretch between sessions has made me lax. We still work every day at least for a few minutes either on tricks or loose leash walking (formerly known as heel) or leave it in the context of meeting strange people and dogs. Progress is sporadic, though, and hard to track. It's tough not to be discouraged.

In the mean time the dog training community is burgeoning in our area. I see new dog trainers and new methods every week. I am committed to positive reinforcement training. I could just stop the whole post there, I believe in it that much. I used a couple of dominance techniques on Emily, mostly because my frustration escalated and she fell into a submissive role so the dynamic came to us naturally and yielded immediate results. Long term, though, it was wildly ineffective, especially with a dog whose difficulties all stemmed from abject terror. I could write a book on it. I might write a book on it. I miss my girl so much and can't help going over the ways in which I could have done more for her if I'd just known a little better. Maybe a book would absolve me of my sins. Even if I did, though, it likely wouldn't be enough to change the minds of people who believe the dominance work will yield them quicker results.

Once in a while you get an enormous gift, a sign if you will, showing you that your was is way better than the proverbial highway.

Untitled This morning I went to the park early because I was slinging caramel at an event all day. On a Saturday things are pretty quiet around 7am. People who want a little space around their dog will often come at that time. As Eddie and I crested a hill we saw a couple standing facing each other from about 10 feet apart and their smallish dog. The dog was running around in circles so I actually looked for a second dog, thinking they were individual dog owners who had just met up. A few more steps along, though, and the man called the dog, the dog didn't come, then the woman called the dog, and it did. She asked it for a sit. Seeing that they were training I called Ed to come my way so we could give them a 15 feet or so berth. He followed so I acknowledged him and, when he came closer, all the way to heel, gave him a treat. The other dog sighted us. The man called him. The dog came to him. He asked for a sit and got it. After a few seconds the dog looked at Ed and came hammering after him. The guy called. The girl called. The dogs ran around. The other dog was having more fun than Eddie was but my boy was tolerating it and he needed a good run so I let it go on while I waited to see the people react. The human pair moved to come get their dog so I called Eddie to come, knowing their dog would follow. When Ed got to me I grabbed him and gave him a treat and said something aloud about using him as bait to get their dog. Before they could even have heard me they had hands on him and when I looked up they had the dog on his back and were both looming over him. They thanked me and I moved on with Eddie and they sort of apologized and I sort of weirdly applauded them on training their dog.

Here's where I got excited and maybe relieved and certainly thrilled for my glorious pup and, yes, probably gloat a little. It wasn't a scientific study, there were a lot of pertinent variables, but at the root of it we had two independently minded dogs being asked to come when called. One was being trained without any treats and with dominance, the other with positive reinforcement, both ingestible and verbal. Which one came when called? Which one was a reliable example for the community?

My dog. The barely-food-motivated, spoiled, crafty terrier.

Positive reinforcement training takes a lot of fucking work. It takes time and patience and the forward motion can be slow, especially if you train inconsistently or only a few minutes a day. It works, though. In my experience the results are similar to condom use. The failures can almost always be attributed to user error. 

1 comment:

  1. Love this. Ed's a fantastic advertisement for positive training. The way I read your story (and the world), the biggest negative on that dominance stuff is that it doesn't work. (And I bet it extra-double wouldn't work on Eddie!)