Thursday, September 16, 2010

Man Down! Man Down!

Neither my dog nor I is good at breaking down larger tasks into smaller, more manageable ones. We like instant gratification, even if it's messy.

For instance, I know how to spell. I've always known how to spell, though. Words either look right to me or they don't and that's been the case for as long as I can remember. I don't remember studying for spelling tests but I don't think I failed even a one. There are a few exceptions (very few) like commitment and gauge but I've gritted out the learning of them and am forever grateful to computer programs that redline my first instinct so I know to go back and think for a second. Yes, a little piece of my soul dies when people talk about "loosing" "they're" sunglasses or wonder what people in the "dessert" have for "desert" but I don't blame the person in question because I know I didn't work for this. I just know what loose and lose sound like in my head and I spell them accordingly. I love my dessert enough to sprinkle it with that extra s. It's just something in my brain, the same way other people just feel what 10% of a check is or whether that 8th suitcase will fit in the trunk if they just change the orientation of cases 4 and 7.

In the orientation session for obedience class we learned to teach the dog "touch" as a precursor to many things like come, heel and pay attention. We're working with clickers (just like the nuns!) which I've seen done but never done myself. The first step is to take 5-10 tiny treats in your hand, put the clicker in that hand, too, with your thumb at the ready and hide the hand behind your back. Present the other, empty, hand flat and palm forward about 2 inches from your dog's nose. Wait until the dog touches your hand with his nose. Immediately click, take away your empty hand then give your dog a treat with your clicking and treating hand. (Oh yeah, it takes a certain amount of coordination. Oh hell yeah, I'm lucky I haven't smashed myself in the nose with a milk bone yet.)

First off my dog knows where the fucking treats are. So I've got to present my touch hand to him somehow while he's trying to wander off behind my back because he's not an idiot. After a couple of tries, though, he sees that I'm not opening the clicking hand so he'll let it go. The result is that he also doesn't have the noise of the clicker and the placement of the clicker matched in his mind. So I present my empty hand, he touches it, I click and he goes looking for whatever made that funky noise. Hand, touch, click and he looks away. Hand, touch, click, look away. Hand, touch, click, wanders around the living room looking for whatever is making that intriguing commotion! Which, by the way, makes it hard to give a food-neutral dog a treat. He's basically saying, "No thanks, can't stop, I'm looking for something. Looks delicious, though, I'll come back when I'm done!"

He's smart. I'm not knocking that. I'm petrified of it but I'm not knocking it. However, it made our first day of training pretty draining on both of us. I couldn't see the improvements he's made overall because I couldn't manage to get these new activities right. It's not all on him, either, I'm not terribly good at this training thing and I'm petrified that I'm rewarding the wrong behavior, treating too much or too little, giving in when I shouldn't and ignoring where I should be praising. Honestly, Wednesday morning was as discouraging as Tuesday night was inspiring (and overwhelming and comforting and terrifying and...).

So I worked hard to remember all the people in class who have dogs with housetraining issues and unrelenting separation anxiety. I'm lucky. He's so smart he found an unused cat bed and annexed it for himself. He knows that "inside" means get in your crate and he does it. He knows "wait." He has, up to now, been vaguely interested in birds and squirrels but mostly in passing. Today he noticed one a couple of yards ahead near a tree and he moved forward but without intent. The squirrel went scurrying up the tree and, just as we approached the tree (one assumes the better to pee on it), WHUMP! that fat fuck fell from a branch right to the ground not 5 feet from Eddie. We all stood stunned a moment, the squirrel bolted for the tree and made it up again without incident and Ed spent the next 5 minutes circling, circling, circling trying to work out how to make that squirrel fall down in front of him again. With gleeful determination he chased every single solitary squirrel we saw for the rest of the walk. So it only took one squirrel falling down in front of him to teach him to chase squirrels.

He's a genius!

I am still nursing the abrasions on my own sense of adequacy, though, so I'm trying to draw a highlighter across the things I can do. I can spell! I can sing. I've been known to take a nice photo.

What are you good at?


  1. HAHAHA! This post made me laugh!! I so want to meet Ed.

    I for sure can not spell but I can get all you're shit to fit in the trunk!

    Also, I am pretty good at being an ass. Sorry. Expose your (you're) weakness and I pounce.

  2. As long as you're packing my stuff so I get to take it all you can make as much fun of me as you like. Better you packing it than me! That little your/you're joke did just blow a teardrop shaped hole in my heart, though.

  3. I have spelling licked too! In 4th grade they called me the Walking dictionary- it was a taunt- but it turned me into a superior bullshitter. Once I realized they did not know the meaning of the words let alone how to spell them- I could make stuff up and they never knew what hit them.
    Ya ha ha- dog training - I SUCK at it.

  4. Miflohny2:55 PM

    It drives me crazy when people get it your/you're wrong - I've even seen it wrong printed on the side of a truck as part of a logo!

    There are a few words I can't seem to learn how to spell, however. In elementary school, one of my teachers decided to do a boys against girls spelling bee one day. Somehow it came down to me against 4 or 5 boys. So I had to spell a word, then a boy would spell a word. Then I'd spell another word, then a different boy would spell a word, then it would come back to me again. Not very fair, huh? Anyway, I was doing fine until I got "vacuum." I didn't know if it had 1 c and 2 us or 2 cs and 1 u. I tried to sound it out, and that didn't help. I think I gave it two of each! Of course I got it wrong. You would think that experience would make me learn that word forever. So not the case. I still get that word wrong!

    I'm also "good" at giving wrong directions. People on the street think I'm easy to approach apparently, as they always ask me for directions. I try not to give directions unless I'm certain I'm right. Then moments later, I realize I was wrong. I gave a poor woman the exactly wrong directions to Penn Station yesterday. She was headed in the right direction. I sent her in the opposite direction. I hope she didn't miss a train. UGH!

    Obviously, I'm wonderful at highlighting the things I'm good at :-)

  5. I'm a pretty good teacher. I can fit a lot of shit in trunks. I'm a good cook.

    I am terrible, however, at having an accurate picture of what Eddie looks like in my mind. I thought I had him figured out, but then I saw the picture of him in your arms and I'm figuring out that I'm all wrong.

  6. @Mrs. Chili - he's much more of a blur in real life than in any photo (and he has a funny little smile). Kizz, 'touch' is awesome! Eddie & I actually did just that a few times the other night (no clicker - the reward was throwing the slimy-squeaky thing), and he figured out really fast that I meant 'touch' and not 'chew my fingers off'... Buce learned 'touch' at the shelter, and it made life with him possible in the early days.

    But you're past early days, almost! If you reach a frustration point (yours or his) on the clicker thing, cry out this-a-way for encouragement or an even smaller babystep idea.

    Oh and - it occurred to me that he ran upstairs the other night because he wanted you to follow him to the Room of Fun where he spent the evening, so you could see where we keep the slimy-squeaky thing - which I would love to give to you guys, but maybe you'd like to wait till I rename it 'cute-fun-toy'?

  7. KL Crab, I have GOT to get better at training. This dog is going to be hell on wheels if I don't. God damn I hate a learning curve, though.

    Miflohny, I think I should have changed the emphasis on that question for you. What are you GOOD at? :)

    Sara, I don't want to take toys of out Bu's mouth but I can use all the toys I can get at this point. He needs variety and I spent most of my money getting him neutered. I'm sure you're right, that he was trying to show me the room of fun. He's very good at training! He's getting pretty good at touch in the house, it's slower going outside but working. Sort of.

  8. I was the best speller in my school in third grade. Yep, mmm-hmmm, I was. Spelling and grammar have always been my thing. "Loose" when "lose" is needed gives me hives.

    My mother can choose the plastic storage container that will precisely accommodate (double C, double M) any particular volume of leftover food. Every. flippin'. time.

    On the other hand, I am still trying to work out the logistics of holding clicker and treats in the same hand AND actually manipulating both.

  9. Oh, right - training with rapt attention in the house, versus "while competing with the whole of planet earth for the dog's attention" - what fun. "So-cute toy formerly known by less-nice name" is all yours. If Buce really loved it, he would have pre-shredded it.

    Hey, Robert has gotten some mileage out of a long, slow ssshhhh sound with Buce. I tried it out on Eddie (during a fingers-as-tug-toy moment), and I think it has potential at communicating "let's all take a moment, shall we?" And even if the dog doesn't feel that way, it's very relaxing to make that long, slow sound.

  10. I'm good at puppet voices and choosing cool gifts for my niecphews. I'm good at making my family laugh. I'm good at recylcing.
    I'm getting better at disciplining myself to drink water and clean my apartment.
    You'll get better at discipline, too.