Sunday, December 4, 2011

The timeclock in his head?

Maybe it is the scientist in me but I find one of the most enjoyable things about dog training is is when the dog does something "wrong" and, as a result, shows me that he is smarter than I thought and that he is doing exactly as I have taught him. Take Steel's training session today as a simple example. He is doing very nice attentive heeling, very animated and prancey with great eye contact. Okay he forges a tiny bit (by AKC obedience rules) and I need to work a little on that before it becomes a habit but his animation is often so beautiful to watch (I mean cars sometimes slow down to watch as they are going by) that I hate to mess with it.

Below is Steel heeling without a major distraction nearby. Please note - Although I am posting this I am well aware that he is not yet "perfect", however I guess that would depend on how I personally define perfect. This is training, training is a process, something to be enjoyed in my opinion. Videotaping is an excellent way for me to determine what I want to emphasize and work on. You wouldn't think I would need to say that but apparently I do....

Since he is getting pretty solid with the behavior and has had a lot of rehearsal time, today I decided to add a distraction. The distraction I used is called a "CRITTER QUIVER". It is basically a battery operated stuffed bunny that sits on a spike and has a little seizure in the middle of the training yard. Yea that's right.... I happened to see it as I was wandering through Dick's Sporting Goods. It is for coyote hunting, presumably the coyote thinks it is a real bunny???

"critter quiver"

Steel quickly reminded me that although we have not done much official sport obedience training, he is well used to distraction training in many other contexts. As soon as he spotted that bunny he was ready to go (those of you have met his father will have no trouble picturing this). However he also immediately saw it for what it was. It was A DISTRACTION. So he did not look at it, he just offered me VERY animated heeling. As if to say "how well do I have to heel to get you to release me to go play with that thing?!" After about 20 seconds of heeling his animation would drop just a bit and he would start making motions to go toward the distraction, without losing eye contact.  Why? Because this is what I had taught him. I have played similar games with him since he was a puppy - asking him for a behavior that required him to ignore what he wanted (person, toy, decoy, food) and then, when he is offering me the behavior that I want, releasing him to go to it. This is how all of his narcotics training has been. I show him the reward object, he finds the narcotics, he gets the reward. See the decoy, ignore it, get released to get a bite.That is the way it has always worked. And, like the rest of us, I am a creature of habit and Steel clearly has an idea in his head of just how long to typically offer a behavior before expecting to get what he wants. Everything in his behavior today told me just how well he understood the game according to the rules that I had clearly taught to him.

As an exercise when teaching I often ask my students to picture what the dog would write if he sat down with a piece of paper and a pen and described the exercise.  Steel's answer to the above exercise would go like this (he would write in bold with all caps and exclamation points because that's the kind of dog he is):


I am guessing on the exact amount of time but I bet it is that precise. So you can see the points of confusion in this exercise - I was expecting him to hold the behavior indefinitely and I was not releasing him to the bunny. Was this a major problem for the training? No. It did make me laugh while I was training though when I realized just how well Steel understood the game by the rules that I had taught. And also how well the clock in his head worked. He would do about 20 seconds of prancing heeling with a big goofy grin on his face, then make a motion toward the distraction, then offer about another 20 seconds of prancing heeling (like perhaps I had not noticed the first session), then a motion towards the bunny. It was, to be honest, pretty funny to watch.  It also did remind me though how much dogs can teach us when we look at behavior a little bit deeper and don't immediately assume that they are wrong.

"The most exciting phrase to hear in science
 the one that heralds new discoveries,
is not 'Eureka!' (I found it!)
 but 'That's funny ...'  -Isaac Asimov

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