A true gentleman

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Needed - longer arms.

One of the perks of owning Curly-Coated Retrievers is the type of games you can play with them. Hunter, my first CCR introduced me to the fun of field training. I joined a great group of folks who had trained other retriever breeds for many years and they were very patient in teaching me the ropes. After awhile, I found the confidence to go out by myself to work on drills.

On one particular occasion, Hunter took extreme advantage of the pond in between us. I had sent him on a blind retrieve across the pond (several bumpers were already placed on the other side so he would see no bumper fall). When he got to the other side, however, he must have figured out that my arms weren't long enough to reach him so he could do as he pleased. And he did. He investigated every interesting smell he could find and peed on lots of things. He was having such a good time that he failed to notice that I was trotting around the pond.

He was so intent on investigating his latest find that until I said "Hunter, Heel!" from two feet away, he didn't even know I was there.

I know I've mentioned his "Oh S#!#!" look before, but this was the first time I ever saw it. He looked directly into my eyes and I could read his mind. He knew that he was in trouble and he instantly tried to fix it by snatching up his bumper and jumping into the pond, heading strait back to the spot where I had been standing on the opposite bank.

"Oh no you don't", I said and I called him to heel. To his credit he came out of the water, tail tucked between his legs and he slunk over to where I stood. He looked so pitiful standing there, dripping wet. He didn't even shake. He knew he was caught. A guilty conscience goes a long way with this dog. And before you wonder, "does he act that way because you beat him?" I can say absolutely not!! We train with praise! Besides, unless you can administer a correction simultaneously with the mis-deed, you may as well save it because the belated correction is totally useless as a teaching tool.

I was having a bit of difficulty not laughing at him so I decided to let him off the hook and put him back to work. I made him hold his bumper and sat him at the edge of the pond. Then I walked back around the pond to my original spot, faced him and from across the water I called, "Hunter Come!"

Now I had great visions of Hunter plunging into the water and swimming to me in a direct line, as he should have done to begin with. Instead, at my call, he took a sharp right turn and ran around the pond in the exact route that I had just taken.

Oh well, I was training blinds, not bank running so I held my tongue since he technically obeyed the command I had given him. After this episode, I decided that we needed to end the training session on a good note so I set him up again, held my breath and sent him "Back" across the pond for the last bumper. This time, he hit the water, swam across, picked up the bumper, turned and swam strait back to me.

Good dog!

Q & A for the day:

Hmmm, two good topics for this one so I'll pick the one folks have the most trouble recognizing - timing the praise or correction.

What do you mean, timing the praise or correction is everything?

I'll start with an example, you are teaching your dog to sit . . . he is right in front of you and you tell him to "sit" . . . and for the first time, his bottom hits the floor . . . you are sooooo excited that you throw your hands up in the air and clap . . . he experiences your delight and jumps up to celebrate with you . . . and you say "Good Dog".

You have just praised your dog for jumping up, not sitting. So the next time you want him to sit, he will remember how much praise he got when you said "sit" for jumping up and he will try to give you the jumping up behavior that he found most rewarding. He won't want to sit.

He's not a 'dumb dog' that can't learn to sit, he is a smart dog that learned what gets him praise and he repeats the action that got it for him. To reinforce the sit behavior, you must administer the praise while his bottom is still on the ground - it takes only seconds to miss the opportunity to praise correctly so you must be ready. If you miss it, say nothing, and try again.

It also helps to know that a dog's attention span for learning new activities can be counted in seconds, 5 - 10 seconds max, depending on age. So if you want to correct him for a misdeed, he must be doing the misdeed at the time of the correction. If you catch him chewing a chair leg, tell him "no chew" or "bad chew" and give him something appropriate to chew on, then follow up with a "good chew" - or whatever words you choose to use. Choice of word doesn't matter as long as you are consistent - it is the voice, not the word that counts - but command consistency helps during the learning process.

This is also why house training can take so long for some dogs. They don't associate a correction received well after the deed is done with actually doing the deed in the house. And shoving his nose in the pile doesn't help - he no longer associates an old pile with the 'doing of the deed'. That is why a crate is very useful in house training. The dog is contained in his den until you can escort him outside - then GO with him so that you can praise his doing the deed outside where you want it. Afterwards, keep a close eye on him and if he starts sniffing around the room, take him out again and if he performs praise him again. In house training, diligence is everything.

Be careful that you don't fall into the house training trap of training the dog to use the revolving door. If you let him out the door, he pees and comes back in, then gets a cookie, no matter what you are saying, in his mind he is being praised for coming inside - not peeing outside. That's why some dogs have to "go" so often - they are really going outside so that they can come right back inside and get a cookie :-). This is exactly why you need to go outside with the dog - so that you can give praise for the correct behavior - peeing, not coming in the door - the praise always comes outside. Lots of folks have spent lots of dollars going to the vet to make sure their dog doesn't have an infection because they always have to 'go'.

You will be amazed at the results you can get if you remember the proper use of these two words: "timing and praise".

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Million Dollar Babe

In the very, wee hours of the morning (4:30 a.m.), Singer, aka the Babe, my 11 y/o Curly-Coated Retriever, barked and woke me up. Thinking she had to go outside to make a nature call I (very grudgingly) rolled out of bed to let her out. It always irks me when she says one thing then does something else, but once I got up she obviously didn't want to go outside - still, since I was up, and the other girls were creating a ruckus now too, I let them all outside. As I walked back through the house, the doorbell rang, at a time when doorbells should not ring! I hate the adrenaline rush you get when doorbells ring at the wrong time.

I did an immediate about turn and let the girls back in, then went to a window that had a view of the door and there, bent over and peeping in the front door pane, was a shirtless man, that shouldn't have been there. I really hate the adrenaline rush you get when you see shirtless men that shouldn't be there.

My brain left my body at the sight of the man, but somehow I managed to think "shotgun" and I took great comfort in holding it while I dialed 911. The man was gone by the time the police came.

We'll never know what plans the prowler had, if any, but thanks to the Babe, we're safe. Now the other girls were probably helping too, but since Singer barked first and woke me up, she gets the credit. Deacon was in another part of the house so he didn't get to help. He is my second line of defense if anyone gets past the girls.

The Babe - a million dollars. . . sleeping through the night under her watchful eye/ear, priceless.