There are moments when training a dog that just make your heart soar. Today was one of them. After months of a dog who was tentative, fearful, shut down and unwilling or unable to participate in training to retrieve the light bulb came on and Emma got it. She understood that we wanted her to pick up things and hand them to us. She knew she was right and it made us happy. She was willing to go the extra step and problem solve and be persistent in achieving a goal. She took the initiative and choose to pick up an item without prompting. I cannot say enough about the milestone I saw happen today - it was a hundred tiny things that happened all in the span of 15 seconds! It was amazing to watch.
Today, as I was preparing to leave for an interview, I pulled out a business card to check on an upcoming appointment with my hair dresser, since I would be across the street from her business for the interview and thought that a more pressing appointment was in conflict with my hair appointment next month. Sure enough, I was right. The appointment I had previously set was in conflict with a client appointment for training another dog. I made a mental note to reschedule my hair appointment and went to put the card back in my wallet and promptly dropped it.
I was at the outside edge of needing to leave if I was going to be on time and decided not to call Emma to help me, which I would have done had I not been pressed for time, but Max instead. I know Max can quickly and easily pick the card up and I wouldn't be placing Emma under pressure when I am in a hurry.
Max and Emma came into the kitchen. Max, who recognized I was preparing to leave, passed the card and looked for his harness instead. Emma, on the other hand, stopped and spotted the card. Before I could cue Max to pick it up, Emma made the choice that it was the card I had called them in for and tried to pick it up. She couldn't get a good grip on it and I figured she would back away and stop, but instead she turned her head a little and tried again. I stayed quiet as Max stood by me and we both watched her turn her head one way and try, then another and try and finally pivot her body a bit and try again. I was impressed with her persistence and didn't say anything as she thought this problem through. A second's hesitation and she pawed it. It works for Max, so why not. She moved it with her paw, tried again without success. Now she was serious, she pawed it hard twice more and tried each time she moved it without success. I was caught in the struggle of solving the problem with her. I didn't want to stop her, didn't want to move or say anything while she worked it out. A final pawing of the card and her head came up, proud and high and she had the card firmly held in her front teeth as she MOVED to hand it to me! Yes folks, Emma chose to retrieve a business card, solved the problem of how to get it up off the floor, stayed with the problem even after several failed attempts and with much flourish successfully handed it to me.
To say we had a party undermines what happened next. I could feel how big I was smiling as I took it, told her Yes and gave her a huge hug. I then did a dance with her and chanted "Emma retrieved" with her as we went to the treat jar and I gave her three treats for doing such a good job. Not only did her confidence soar with each passing second, but she was truly smiling back at me.
But my smile and my party with her wasn't just because she picked up a business card. It was because she was THINKING and PROBLEM SOLVING and PERSISTING with a problem until SHE solved it. Emma made a huge emotional leap. But that was not all of it. There was a huge intuitive leap that I may have wanted something that was on the floor and she LOOKED to see what was out of place and SAW it and decided to RETRIEVE without fear or worry. Emma is well on her way to becoming confident with her job and what is asked of her. A hundred tiny things happened in that fifteen seconds for her and I am so amazed and pleased with her sudden leap forward. Months of work accumulated into that 15 seconds of amazing.
I have been pointing to and giving her the option of picking up 1 or 2 new things all week. No pressure, lots of support and praise for any effort and then suddenly she GETS IT. EMMA GETS IT!
So, we end the week with a juvenile who is rapidly becoming a mature dog and doing so with amazing leaps in her training. How fantastic is that?