Thursday, August 22, 2013

11 Months: Training - Day 162

Emma excites easily.
So, what do you do with a Labradoodle who is part Lipizzaner?  Why, teach her to keep her feet down and planted firmly to the ground.  Emma is a major jumper.  She has gotten to the point she'll jump at me and rebound off of me in her excitement.  We've tried standing on her leash, removing her from the room, turning away and ignoring her and much more to convince her to keep her feet to herself.  Unfortunately, none of it worked.  We got to sitting and waiting to be released to greet and then cuing and immediate sit when greeting, but even that wasn't working with the person coming in the home gave her attention.  And none of that helped with the "I can't contain myself" jumping that happened about 100 times a day in the house.

Thus, clicker and the reward she craved became part of my training plan.  I have been for a while carrying the clicker or just marking the behavior of her feet hitting the floor and rewarding with attention and affection and removing both if her feet leave the ground again.  I have about 80% of the worst of the jumping solved with me personally, but not with other people.

I am now doing the same with other people, in this case our daily visit with Ronda, to re-enforce the concept and she's starting to get it.  It has been our all day training plan, since I can only do it when she's excited enough to bring her feet off of the floor.

This will be a process with her, since it's been so highly rewarded to jump up and get close to the people she wants to greet with wild abandon.  I will work on the lower levels of excitement with people other than family to build a foundation of understanding and then introduce the idea to family itself.  Hopefully, this won't take long now that she's older and has better ability for impulse control, but she is still young and excitable and it will take time.

Meanwhile I am evaluating where she is.  Her sit, down, target and stay are pretty strong.  She has a good recall and a solid crate foundation, though she needs to learn not to howl when left during the day.  She has a beginning loose leash with minor distractions, but needs to build up the solid behavior she offers in my home and yard in the street and out in public.  She also needs to practice it when meeting people she loves, but again that goes with the training of self control with her front feet and will be worked on with low to high levels of excitement.

I am still encouraging Emma to explore and try picking up new objects every day.  It's no longer a formal thing, but a no-pressure game where I point out something and see if she'll try to hand it to me.  I encourage the family to do the same, but with no overt expectations.  We want her to begin to think about picking up and handing things to her handler, but right now we want it with confidence and if she is consistenly rewarded for effort she'll soon learn failure is not an issue and her confidence will grow.  This has been, far and above any other lesson, her hardest and most stressful.  She grew worried she was in trouble or being scolded when we pointed things out before and the more we point, she looks, sniffs, attempts to pick up or picks up items and is praised the higher her confidence will grow.  Once she's gained confidence, her willingness to make bolder and longer efforts on more difficult objects will increase.  I don't wish to get to difficult objects for her to pick up with only a patch on her confidence, but instead with a fully restored level of confidence that she knows and can do what we ask of her.

I am also giving her breaks during the week to user her powerful latent learning after retrieving a new object.   I want her to think and fuss through it and realize she did right and she can do whatever she attempts.  Thus a day of play and no training allows her this ability to think through and resolve these complicated issues for her.

So, Wednesday was a day of rest while today we work not on retrieve, but self control when greeting me in a more formal manner.  I am also going to polish off sit, down and target so she has the solid foundation to begin formal task training.

Meanwhile Emma is using known skills in real life with fewer food rewards and more life rewards.  Praise has become a strong reward for Emma and so when working in known locations I have faded the treats and begun using praise and life rewards (going outside, greeting people) instead.  In new locations we are working on a high to low reward rate with food rewards, starting at a rapid reward rate and slowly extending the time between them until she's focused and working with little to no food rewards by the time we leave.  She is doing well with this approach as I replace one food reward with praise or a life reward instead.

I will be working on her learning she can tackle strange new places to sit, such as on logs, stumps, rocks and other items, without worry.  I am in the process of a major confidence boost for Emma and then will begin taking known tasks out in public to proof them as she learns them.

Outside of retrieve, Emma's next task to learn is to use her very powerful and natural habit of nudging with her nose to rise my arm or foot and place them on the arm or foot rest of my chair.

These next few weeks will be very exciting.


  1. I now have a four year old Standard Poodle who has been taught not to touch anything except her own toys. No harsh corrections were used, only praise, but I plan to use the clicker and treats and start from the beginning with her. I'm glad you shared how to transition from clicker/treats to praise and life rewards. Thank you for sharing all of this with us.

    1. May I suggest the same book I am using for Emma for you to use to begin training a retrieve. The book is called Training Levels: Steps to Success by Sue Ailsby and be purchased at

      It also shows how to fade the treats and build in life rewards and praise rewards for the dog. Even now, with Max a fully trained service dog, I still occasionally give him a treat for a sit or down to keep him working for the jackpot, but it is rare and he gets a lot of rewards for other things he's learning in the meantime. I'll talk in the future about dogs and their concept of us humans as the magical treat dispensing machines. They will try 100 times if they get a treat on 101 - they believe they jackpotted and are willing to continue offering behaviors that pay in some fashion - thus I pay off and on to keep them working for that one time they pulled the lever and a treat popped out of my hand. Amazing animals with amazing persistence.

    2. I do have Sue's book and use it, but I learn even more by following your descriptions of your daily training sessions and the ways you work through the challenges you encounter.