Tuesday, September 7, 2010
Training Tuesday: The “Good Lord Why Did I Decide to Do This?” Edition
It has been two weeks since I instituted the “no more trials until I finish the relaxation protocol” rule, and as predicted, I’m hating myself already. (Actually, I started hating myself a week ago, but whatever.) Thankfully, I posted it quite publicly, and enough of my real life friends read this that I know I won’t be able to gracefully back out. This is good, because holy cow, this crap is boring. BORING.
It’s also working, thank god, because I don’t think I could sustain the motivation needed to get through this tedium if I wasn’t seeing glimmers of progress.
First and foremost, let it be known that the relaxation protocol, while challenging for the dog under any circumstance, is even more difficult when there are cats involved. Obnoxious, nosy, food-obsessed, den-loving, clicker-trained cats. In other words: they are constantly right there when the clicker, treats and/or crate comes out. Unfortunately, Maisy has a bit of a problem with resource guarding when it comes to the cats. This, combined with the fact that Maisy has self-appointed herself as the resident kitty cop, means that it can be very, very difficult to convince her to relax when they’re around. Which they are. Constantly.
While they slow the process down, their presence is a huge help. For one thing, they make an excellent distraction, though not as intense as what we might encounter at a trial. Beyond that, Maisy has a long history of rushing the cats and bowling them over, so when she is able to control those impulses around the kitties, I know we’re on the right track.
In fact, it was just one of those moments last week that helped me know that she’s making progress. During one session, one of the kitties did something that Maisy has decided is naughty, something that she would usually discipline them for. Her entire body tensed up, and she raised herself just slightly from the ground. But then she stopped herself, evidently thought about it, and quickly lowered herself back down. She wasn’t relaxed, exactly, but neither was she reacting mindlessly!
I’ll admit, I’ve been a bit lazy with it all. I just can’t bring myself to do it every day. We’ve done it 9 times over the last 14 days. It’s not perfect, but that’s not embarrassing, either. We advanced to day three in the relaxation protocol on our last session, although that session was a little rough. If the next one is as bad (she had a hard time staying in a down, although a sit isn’t really the end of the world), we’ll drop back down to day two for a bit. I’m also working on duration in the crate, and she’s currently managing quite well with a treat once every 60 seconds over the course of five minutes.
I could probably push her further faster, but I want to build this foundation strongly and carefully. As a result, I’m spending several sessions on each step, waiting until I see her relaxed before I move on. Some of the things I’m looking for includes being rolled on to one hip, rather than in a sphinx down, resting her chin on the ground, and taking treats softly instead of grabbing them roughly.
For her part, Maisy is loving this. She’s inside the crate before I can even get it fully set up. When I call her out, she jumps back in before I can break it down again. And every night, at about the time we do the protocol, she starts to whine and poke at the folded-up crate with her nose, all while looking at me hopefully.
Speaking of poking things with her nose, I think that my possibly hare-brained scheme, is working. It was quite easy to shape her to touch my leg, although she tends to think the proper location is in the left kneecap. That’s fine, really, and maybe even better than doing it anywhere else. After all, this way she’ll have to turn away from whatever’s bugging her in order to poke me there. It was a bit more work to convince her that she could poke me when I’m standing, too, but she figured that out.
Right now I’m in the process of assigning a verbal cue to the behavior. She’s got it about half the time, and once it’s a bit more solid, I’ll start cuing that behavior when she’s whining to get my attention. On one occasion, she did use the nose poke to communicate that she wanted something from me (a rawhide), so I think this could work. I must admit, I’m really excited about the possibility of reducing some of her whininess, although I’m aware that the poking could become even more annoying. I hope I don’t regret this!
Anyway, overall I’m very pleased with the progress she’s making. It’s slow, but I’m hoping that as she understands it better, we’ll be able to pick up the back a bit. I hope so, anyway, because at our current rate of progress, this will take six months otherwise! Although that sounds like forever, I know that the time investment will be worth it. I’ll keep you guys updated, of course!