Sunday, March 02, 2008

Teaching Moments -- How to Use Them?

My 2 senior citizens and I were walking along the river today. We were joined Slim and his young cattle dog, Blue. Slim and his wife found Blue in a shelter about 6 months ago. Blue is one of the smallest and cutest cattle dogs I've ever seen. Very lively, smart, charming. Slim wants a better recall on Blue because Blue is apt to go chasing after bikes, horses, other dogs, and people. Slim asked my opinion on electronic collars, and I told him I was leery of them because timing is so crucial in using them successfully. I don't think I have the timing necessary to use them properly, given that I accidentally clicker-trained poor Fluff to pick up a dumbbell and spit it out as fast as she could instead of picking it up and holding it*. I told Slim about one possible problem with the collar -- if the shock is timed incorrectly, the dog may associate the bikes or whatever as causing the shocks and feel like he really needs to get them under control or away from him. If that happens, he's going to be more assertive and/or aggressive going after them.

Slim was definitely in "yes, but" mode today. Honestly, I'm pretty sure he's made up his mind to try an e-collar. Equally honestly, I think his consistency and timing are going to suck enough that there is a good chance he'll ruin his dog. As we walked, I talked about positive reinforcement and the need to practice the recall when it's not needed. Blue was unable to get my dogs to play with him, so he'd mostly lost interest in them. I suggested Slim practice calling Blue away from Fluff when Fluff was chasing sticks and make it a party when Blue came to him. Slim throws some pretty boring parties. Blue would come, Slim would quietly say, "good dog," ask him to sit, and then give a cookie. My dogs, who normally glom on to anyone with cookies, didn't even notice Slim was handing out cookies, that's how understated he was.

Then we saw some people down the shoreline a ways. Blue noticed, and I tried to get Slim to call Blue before he took off running, when he still had a chance of the dog listening. No, Slim argues with me about how Blue knows these dogs, so it's okay. Ah, Slim, that is precisely the time to play this game! There are no disastrous consequences for failing! If Blue sees dogs he knows across a busy road, it's going to be nice to be able to call him back from going to see them, now isn't it? Better to practice on the beach with no one else around before stepping up the criteria several notches. Unfortunately I didn't think of this argument until after we had parted ways.

Since I am interested in teaching people as well as dogs, I wonder how I could best get through to someone like Slim. When I have a young dog again, after Sleek transitions, I'll be more able to show by example, but how to do it with words????

*If you are interested, I clicked late, after she had already begun to let go of the dumbbell, so she thought the trick was to let go of the dumbbell. As she got faster at spitting out, I had less and less time when I wouldn't be too late for the hold. Her ability to learn via clicker was faster than my ability to improve my click timing. It was ugly. Fluff never went on to get her CDX because of that and her dislike for out-of-sight stays.

1 comment:

Mrs. G. said...

I have to say that communicating with animals sounds easier than communicating with people-less BS.

Have a great day!