Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Training Tuesday: The Joy of Training

Maisy and I continue to work hard. Well, "work" is probably the wrong word. Maisy actually stands by the front door (we only use that door to go to the park across the street from our house) and whines if I haven't trained with her yet that day; she loves the heeling game we play. For my part, I feel exhilarated after training sessions. Although I expend a lot of energy during our training sessions, they are so much fun that it doesn't seem like a chore.

Of course, it certainly helps that I see measurable progress every time. Part of that is because I've taken Denise Fenzi's advice to challenge my dog: I have raised criteria fast and furious since I've begun working on Maisy's heeling. Okay, it wasn't really me raising the criteria- Denise has coached me through each step. I'll admit, I was initially skeptical with how far and how high she wanted me to raise criteria. I really didn't think we could do it. Maisy has proved me wrong, though. This dog is capable of amazing things!

Take a look at this video. I've posted it before, less than two months ago, in fact. Then watch this:

Amazing, no? As the video says, my task was to vary my pace and direction frequently. I was striving for some kind of change roughly every three seconds. At the same time, I drastically reduced the frequency of ball-reward, and used verbal praise in its place. This was to teach Maisy that my changing speed and direction is the reason to pay attention, not just the ball. It totally worked, too. She went for almost 90 seconds without a ball throw, and she doesn't show any dampening of enthusiasm!

I've also started adding in some non-toy play, which you can see it at the beginning of the video. This wasn't something Denise suggested (although I don't think she disapproved), but I wanted to start building some reinforcers that were based on me, not an external object. Right now, this really only works before we start training- she's so amped up then that she'll play back. If I try to do it during a session, she will sometimes play back, but usually she licks her lips, or shows me some other stress signal. We'll keep working on it.

Another area where I've been raising criteria like crazy is with Maisy's dumbbell retrieve. As you may remember, we were stuck at the stage where Maisy would pick it up and hand it to me. Click here to see our last retrieve video.

A couple weeks ago, feeling empowered by our success with heeling, I decided to get out the dumbbell again. I started easy, asking Maisy to just pick it up off the floor. Then I moved it about a foot away. Then another. I kept tossing it further and further until she was retrieving it from six to ten feet away. The video below was taken at my aunt and uncle's cabin- a new environment- and Maisy absolutely rocked it.

But I don't think that simply asking more from Maisy was the key to our success here. In watching the two videos, the part that struck me most was how much I was talking to her, encouraging her, and praising her. In the first video, I was doing "proper" clicker training- being silent and letting the dog think. That works for many things, but it didn't work here. Once I started helping her with my voice, though, things just took off.

Yes, I broke the rules and repeated my cue. So what. She wasn't going to respond to the cue anyway (she was too distracted by those treats on the counter), and by gently reminding her what I wanted, she was able to be successful. I praised when she got close, and celebrated when she grabbed it. In the video, you can see her whole demeanor change when I do. You can also see that in each successive retrieve, she trots out to the dumbbell more confidently. She understands what she's supposed to do now, thanks to a little verbal support. 

Finally, I'm going to leave you with one last video. If you follow us on Facebook, you've already seen it, so I'll just link to it. Click here if you want to see what happens when the training session is over and we're just screwing around. That's right- she can do a drop on recall! What an awesome dog! Training is truly a time of joy for us both. 


Laura, Lance, and Vito said...

That's fantastic! She looks so happy :) I think one of the reasons I love training puppies is that in the early stages progress is so just so big and so fast because every behavior is new! Tricks give me the same high.

Let me know if you want my advice on the heeling or retrieves.

Raegan said...

I wanted to post something helpful and insightful, but OMG Maisy and her itty bitty dumbbell is the cutest thing I've ever seen! I think this beats out puppy!Maisy.

Crystal Thompson said...

Hahahaha Raegan.

There's someone locally that competes with a papillion. Talk about the cutest, littlest dumbbell ever!

Laura- I was thinking for the retrieves, the next step would be to ask her to sit before giving it to me. I've also been playing with pausing a moment or two before holding out my hand to take the dumbbell. What do you think? I also want to build a bit more speed and confidence, although that's been naturally improving by itself as she understands the game better.

Laura, Lance, and Vito said...

I think you could either go with teaching her how to front with the dumbbell (and do just a quick grab and turn game) or really teach her to shove it in your hand. It doesn't look like she's really aiming for your hand at this moment, just bringing it really close. The front game is a more direct route to your actual goal but it's much more boring :) If you decide to detour to the to hand route you could make it more challenging by eventually bringing your hand to the side, between your legs, up high, etc and/or more fun by running backwards and letting her slam the db into your palm.

Laura, Lance, and Vito said...

P.S. I also think that right now you really believe she's bringing it to your hand when it appears as though you are moving your hand slightly to her :)

Crystal Thompson said...

Thanks, Laura! I'll play with both of those ideas. I like the hand idea- it does sound more fun, and is probably the more challenging part right now. :)

Crystal Thompson said...

Shhh. ;)

I think you're right that I'm reaching to her. I was trying to make it so that she had to put it in my hand, but she's probably fuzzier on the concept than I think. We'll work on that.

I'm still excited about the distance, though! We've got a lot to work on, but I'm excited by how far she's come.

Laura, Lance, and Vito said...

She really is doing fantastic! Such a long way.