Thursday, October 10, 2013

Never Stop Training

Yesterday, Patricia McConnell posted "Gotta Love That Recall" on her blog, and while I read and recommend her as often as I can, I also noticed the specific phrase which I've poached for the title of this post: Never stop training.

I'd been thinking about this lately, in fact, when a certain long nosed miss started nosing up to peoples' plates in a manner she had not otherwise displayed. I may or may not have been mostly unbothered by this, for it was rarely, if ever, my plate she was getting too close to. This is Elka, who I can leave in the car with McDonald's or other takeout and she will not touch is. Elka, who has been in a room with a coffee table full of nachos and dip and even pigs in a blanket and not touched a thing. Elka, who dropped a turkey sandwich she had in her mouth when I said "drop it", and left along a dropped tupperware of taco meat when I said "leave it".


(forgive the old picture, I don't have a new one of her lurking in the "safe range" of food that is not hers)


So then what's the deal, princess?

I suspect it's because we humans have become complacent. That's part of the problem with having a smart, good dog. You take that smartness and goodness for granted after awhile. And what happens when behaviors, even those smart good ones you like, go unnoticed? Not reinforced? They fade. Until you wake up one day and go "You're usually so good, what happened?"

Bad human!


So, it's nice to have a reminder, especially from somebody like Patricia McConnell, whose books I recommend as often as I can in the course of my day at the library. Many times people have come in asking for a certain personage whom they've seen on television, and I've gently suggested in my best Customer Service™ and Please Think of the Dogs™ way that there were perhaps other methods they'd be more comfortable with, which would work better for the animals involved.

So what does "training" mean for me, in this context?

Reinforcement is my primary means of "attack" here. Elka works well for a "You're so good!", and a side thumping, and jumping around together. That's just good clean fun. But she works really well when there are treats involved, especially miraculous, well timed treats that show up right when she does the thing I'd really love her to do.

I've seen a book called Catch Your Dog Doing Something Right, and this is a principle I dig. I discussed it in my post If You Like It, Name It. Sometimes, I'll praise Elka for napping, daft as that sounds. Of course, this kind of "passive training" also forces me to be far more alert and take notice of things. I can't reflex tell Elka not to bark at or react to something if I don't know what the thing is. I thank Elka if she barks, and then tell her it's not her problem (if it isn't. We had a guy on the porch who wanted to talk to me about alternatives to my electric bill, and I told him three times, the third far less friendly and polite than the first two, that I was not interested and he was welcome to leave. Elka quietly chuff-woofed behind me). I praise Elka for calmly acknowledging a noise she's heard outside. I praise Elka for looking at the Bright!White!New! lawn furniture the neighbors have next door, and then looking away without sprouting a mohawk or otherwise acting like a weirdo about it.

A lot of training, in my eyes, has to do with trust. There's a point at which I trust Elka to do what I'm asking her to do. I also am asking Elka to trust me. Trust me that I'll reward her, that I'll make something worth her while. To trust that she can rely on me, that I'm not going to do something that will hurt or scare her. Of course, she also trust (or hopes or believes?) that she really really deserves that macaroni and cheese, or that pizza, but that's one of the pitfalls with giving your dog human food. There must be rules and boundaries, or the dog will be exceedingly confused (and increasingly pushy) and the people will be angry or frustrated.

My "I'm eating" rules are

1. Elka may not be on me
2. Elka may not be on any surface involved with the food (plate, table, counter, etc.)
3. Elka may not whine at me for the food

If these rules are followed, she may get a bit of what I have, provided it's dog safe. If she breaks any of these rules, I say "too bad" (my no rewards marker), and she doesn't get any of it. If "too bad" has been enacted, she may no longer "spectate" my meal, and must go lie down elsewhere, or otherwise occupy herself.



14 comments:

  1. Good reminder to keep training. I admit that I'm not very good at this. I'm a softie, which I know isn't good either for the dog or for me.

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    1. Yes, sometimes they are so very convincing that they don't really need to do....whatever....for a treat. Or because you asked.

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  2. That's right we will try to get away with as much as we can. We pretend we forgot what we learned until mom reminds us
    Benny & Lily

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    1. Yes, Elka will do this as well sometimes. She actively judges who she thinks she does and does not have to listen to!

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  3. There is a reason that police dogs have regular training sessions as part of the protocol. I tend to be a little lax in on-going training and I really need to do better.

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    1. Yes, I think we all do!

      Really, it's one thing (on the long list) of what the dog blog community is good for....we're reminding and educating each other all the time, in addition to (hopefully) entertaining.

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  4. This is such good advice. I have found lack of follow up training on my part has been detrimental

    Stop on by for a visit
    Kari
    http://dogisgodinreverse.com/

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    1. Yes, there are times you go "Wait.....didn't we used to...?" and then have to come up with a new game plan to salvage the behavior.

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  5. Hehehehe.....trainin'! What's that? Oh, that's what Ma spends the whole week doin' with me that Gpa ruins in just a few hours....oh, that...
    Kisses,
    Ruby ♥

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    1. That's just the way it goes sometimes!

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  6. I can't agree more about Patricia McConnell books. I love her methods, attitudes, and thoughts about dogs and dog training. I'm so glad that you are steering people away from that other famous person and toward her!

    It is so hard to remember to notice that a dog is not doing a bad thing and reward them for it (like leaving your food alone). Thanks for the reminder. One of our pups was being a bit pushy about our dinners tonight, and I guess I also had forgotten to reward him recently when he just lay quietly during dinner!

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    1. Yes, I love her books (and her blog!) and am happy that we have her on the library shelves, so I can head off "bad behaviors" before they start ;)

      It is hard to remember to reward goodness sometimes. Especially when it can interrupt the goodness!

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  7. I so need to start Justus with the basics again; he normally is very good but ignores me when I need him to pay attention. And Crimson Tide, the Beagle on steroids, who "adopted" Silverwalk Hounds, is awesome and I want to keep him that way. He is the one, like Elka, I can leave in a car with dog food open or closed and he won't touch it. McConnell is so good; I love her blog and books.

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    1. Refreshers can be a good thing (for both the dogs and us)!

      Crimson Tide cracks me up, though were I in your shoes, he would be nervewracking!

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