Monday, March 10, 2014

"Leave It", and Shaping

Without going into the history of my life, I really just began using "shaping" to teach my dogs things within the last year.  Prior to that I felt overwhelmed by it and a mental block when it came to learning.  I used the famous excuse, "But I can't hold the leash and the clicker and the treats all at once!"  And the thought of learning all the famous trainers and reading their books, oh my!

My childhood dogs wore "choke chains" as every day collars.  Eight years ago, I trained Ein to do most everything by physically manipulating him (pushing his but down for sit, pulling his forelegs out for down, collar pops for heel.)  I did not know better, I grew up in the country and we just Did Things This Way.

But over the past few years I have been aware that there is a better way than the caveman way.  That didn't stop me from putting Perri through an obedience class last year at a club that trained the "old way". (a club that we ended up joining, and leaving.  A story for another time.)  I refused to do the leash pops or put the prong collar on.  If "Leave It" was brought up we were instructed to give the dog a correction when she sniffed at something.  I was not willing to do a correction, but I did do a physical pull away from the object of interest with the leash.

"Leave It" followed by pulling Perri from what she wanted to sniff.  Leave It by waving my own treat under her nose and luring her back to me, praising her and giving her the treat.  It didn't work.  At all.  And just last autumn, I am at a nursing home asking my poodle to "Leave It" as she lurches towards a pill that was dropped by an elderly patient.  If I had not physically pulled her away, she would have eaten the pill - "Leave It" had no meaning to her.  That is unsafe, and it had to change.  Enter Leslie McDevvitt's book, Control Unleashed. (A book that I had read but was still turning over in my head.)

Throw the food on the ground, cover it with your foot and when the dog looks back at you...CLICK!  (And they will look back.  When your foot is over that food, they will eventually do something resembling shifting their attention back on this puzzling human who will not allow them to have that morsel on the ground.  And that is the clickable moment that can be built upon.)  In fact, that is what I love the most about shaping.  Figuring out that microsecond where the dog does some behavior resembling what I am looking for.  From there is all blossoms.  Once one of my dogs figures out the right track it is amazing for me to watch and click and laugh with them as they continue to offer behaviors and try to get that click.

Worked like a charm.  After struggling for months with the caveman methods, Perri learned the foundations of a good Leave It in a few days with this method.  I do this wherever I go.  Agility shows, Petsmart, walks through town, our wonderful new dog training club.  I throw food on the ground, put my foot over it and when Perri shows the tiniest bit of head movement back towards me, she gets a click and treat.  It did not take long to build this up to Perri glancing at the food and then back at me for her reward.  Amazing.  She has learned that, upon seeing something she wants on the ground, if she looks at me she will get something - guaranteed.

So yesterday during the CGCA test when Perri glanced at that pile of food on the floor, paused and then reoriented back onto me and wagged her tail...for us it was like getting a Utility Dog obedience title.  I struggled with Leave It because I was being an idiot.  I was still shrugging off my old ways, I was still clinging to something that used to be safe and produce decent results.  "Leave It" is the most glaring example that for me, shaping is the best way to go.  I am scatter brained and shaping allows me to communicate so clearly to my dog, without hurting her in anyway.  And if we confuse each other, it's okay.  And I love that.

I have fallen hard into love with clicker training and shaping and there is no going back now.  I feel foolish that I am in my infancy learning these methods.  I am just now reading Bones Would Rain from the Sky by Suzanne Clothier and I am absolutely gutted by that book.  I am choking back tears and I am jolted and I feel like right now, this moment in my life where I am at with my wonderful dogs, is the perfect time to be reading this book.  Yet I still wish I had read it before.  I have known about that book for a long time, yet only now am I reading it.  I don't know why it has taken me this long to come to my senses, but I am glad that I have.  And once again I am flooded with gratefulness for all of the resources available to me for training my dogs.  I am grateful for my sweet, forgiving and silly dogs - they are my teachers above any book or class, and I couldn't do any of this without them.

Unrelated Sniffing Photo!

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