Posted by: fireweaver | November 13, 2009

advances in dog training

with 2 eager little scatterbrains vying for treats, it can be more than a handful trying to work with these whippets.  both do their standard 3 tricks quite reliably – sit, lay down, and “up” (i abhor using the word “beg” to prompt this behavior because i’m not running a concentration camp here) – plus Xyla will shake with either paw.  now that we’ve got the raw basics, i’m working on refining things and adding new ones, and shaping an idea of manners into them.

one of my issues is the dogfather.  Chris is an animal lover, hands down, and spoils these kids all the time.  but he’s not an animal person, and that’s an important distinction.  i have a theory now about all those dog trainers that say you’ve got to be the alpha dog in your pack (a method which i’ve always ascribed to, because it reliably and effortlessly works for me):  they’re simply the people who just do it naturally.  something about innate confidence and a genuine expectation that of course the dog will do what you say miraculously produces results in a way that negotiating with the dog just doesn’t.  teaching Chris how to teach the dogs has really shifted my mind on this whole cesar milan dominance theory crapola, though.  if someone who didn’t have that natural and innate ability to obtain results bullied his way through it, the results could be utterly disastrous – confusing or depressing for the dog, and with a more powerful creature rather dangerous for the human.  case in point: while eating dinner on the couch, our delicious food attracts canine attention.  Xyla usually takes one look at me, gives it up as futile, and goes back to sleep.  Saxon, though, is a world-class opportunist, and an optimistic one at that.  once Chris and i get settled in, Sax hops off the couch and heads over to Chris, laying down as close as possible, with the tragic eyes cranked up to 11.  Chris has to be reminded that letting the dogs beg in the first place is right out, and then he has to raise his voice to an angry-toned near-shout to drive our wayward chowhound back to his corner of the couch.  i need merely a firm one-word command (“couch” works pretty well) in a normal tone & volume to produce quicker results.  if i actually shouted at him, poor Sax would collapse into a heap and act like he’d been thrashed soundly for an hour or so – my baby boy is a rather sensitive fellow.  but Saxon never tries this shenanigan with me in the first place.  it would be right easy to declare that this is due to the dogs viewing me as a dominant and Chris as a mere equal.  i don’t anymore believe that’s the whole case.

step one is clearly work on consistency with Chris – we had a primer on operant conditioning a couple of days ago.  understand what the goal is, then shape towards it.  we gotta both be on the same page for all the goals, or we’ll keep undoing the other’s work.

other goals:

  • get them to respond to names individually, and “pups” as a group.  Saxon’s not getting any love when i call Xyla by name, and vice versa.  we’re working on small training sessions in the kitchen involving lots of treats to get them to think about this.
  • get them to quickly and reliably come when called.  i’d like them to pay a little more attention to me at the dog park, so that if they were bothering a smaller dog it would be easier to call them away.  when not distracted, they get about a B- in coming when called.  a more consistent response to this would be important for:
  • get them safe with off-leash walks.  obviously, this goal is NOT for around the deer- and squirrel- and kid-infested neighborhood, but if i was at the beach or a big park, i’d love for them to be able to wander a bit.  over at Saving for Sesame, they make it sound so simple.  gotta work up the courage to try this out.
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