Friday, March 12, 2010

Training and Retraining

Maisy graduating from her puppy class. She's about five months old in this picture, and clearly thinks that wearing a hat is stupid.

When I first got Maisy just over three years ago, people who knew me were shocked. Crystal? With a dog? As much as people who know me now can't imagine me without a dog, people who knew me then couldn't imagine me with one... because I hated dogs. Well, maybe hate is a strong word, but I did not care for how ill-behaved most dogs are.

Despite my strong dislike of dogs, Maisy somehow wormed her way into my life and my heart over the course of approximately thirty seconds. Still, I didn't like ill-behaved dogs, so I swore that Maisy would never become one. I signed her up for training classes before she even came home.

Now, three years later, I wish I had known more before bringing Maisy home. If I were to do it all over again, I would do many things differently, not because Maisy isn't a great dog, but because I was haphazard in the way I taught her.

Take, for example, heeling. Since I never planned to compete with Maisy, I figured that if Maisy was more or less close to my left side, that was good enough. I didn't even know the concepts of forging and lagging existed, much less cared about them. Maisy learned that the behavior of heeling was to get on my left side and walk the same speed as me.

A year later, when we went to classes at a local training club, I learned that heeling was about a particular position. I began to tighten up what I expected of her, and as a result, Maisy has passable, though not spectacular, heeling.

After our last two trials, though, I realized that Maisy's heeling needs to radically improve, so I began to work on attention heeling with her.

All of which is to say: I never had a very clear picture of what I was teaching until long after I began teaching it.

So, I've set out to retrain heeling, and since I finally know exactly what my criteria is, I've been using my five daily sessions to work on attention heeling on both the left and the right.

Oh my god, you guys. The difference in retraining something and in training it properly in the first place is astounding. Although I am starting to get some nice attention with heeling on the more traditional left side, I am getting way more attention and focus on the right. This shouldn't be surprising- learning something new is obviously so much easier than trying to fight against prior learning and muscle memory. And I'm not surprised, really. More like amazed at the degree of difference I'm seeing.

So, elementary training lesson of the day: Know what the end behavior looks like before you start.

What do you wish you had trained differently? What have you had to retrain? How successful were you? I'd love to hear about your experiences.


Laura, Lance, and Vito said...

My main thing is the same as yours- a proper heel. I knew I wanted attention and closeness, but I had no clue about position so Lance is a major forger. I think we are making great progress though and this weekend I am going to be testing out something in the ring. I probably shouldn't be testing it yet because i've only practiced it for a week, but that's the type of gal I am!

I hope I've learned from it though since I've made a ton of changes in how I've been training Vito.

Crystal said...

Well, I can't wait to hear out what you're testing and how it went. :) Good luck this weekend.

I always say that my next dog will be so awesome.

doberkim said...

i would have trained both dogs heeling differently.

rah offered nice attention naturally, so i never really focused on position very much in the beginning for him. fast forward now he has such a large heel position and he forges so often, i really should have taken the time to clarify exactly where he should have been back in the beginning. rah also never actually took an attention class, where we define heel position - he was just a natural.

as i had the problems with rah, when berlin came along i had the natural backswing of really reinforcing not forging with her- and it made it hard for her to be pushy EVER in heeling and it made it so that she's a little too far back for my taste. and now because i hammered in to her this position, she NEVER wants to change it - because she's doing exactly what i taught her!!!

Crystal said...

Oh, heeling. I'm not surprised that that is the behavior we're all talking about here.

Lindsay said...

I wish that I had actually done formal obedience work with the dogs from day 1 instead of waiting until they were a few years old to start anything!!

elegy said...

I wish I had insisted on loose leash walking with Steve. He's turned into an absolute monster on a leash, and it's going to be a huge pain in the butt to get back what I had when he was wee.