Thursday, September 5, 2013

11 Months: Training - Day 171

Emma is learning working position when walking.
Back feet.  You would think if you had four feet you would be aware you have them, but apparently that was not part of the design of a dog.  Though their feet follow them, they are, for the most part, totally clueless they own back feet.  The funniest moment when training a dog is the moment they look back at those two follow alongs and realize they are there in the first place.  That happened today with Emma.

I am working on the next step of her leash work, which is full wheelchair skills, and thus am working on her knowing she had back feet.  It is important for a dog working with a wheelchair to realize they can pivot with it, can back up with it and can keep all four feet out of danger of the wheels.  To do this I am working with my desk chair and playing "Find My Face" and clicking for any back foot movement and then finally only for side to side back foot movement.  Right now I don't care it is right or left.  I don't care if she swings into position on my Heel or Side, what I do care is she can and will move her back end independent of her front end and thus be able to turn with a chair.

The trick is to convince Emma that finding my face is the goal of the game.  I managed that with letting her do all kinds of wiggles and woggles and spins and what not and every time she looked up into my face I clicked and then every time she was in some form alignment with my body and facing me I clicked.  It didn't take long; I could turn 180 degrees and she'd walk around and look up.  No speed, no excitement yet - just that testing mode of "is this right" in her body language.  A few more of these games and she'll know the game and come into it with confidence.

I then started clicking her back feet as she aligned with me (yes, that was the reason for the alignment) and then I clicked for sideways movement of her feet.  That's when it happened.  She turned and looked at her back foot and then looked at me.  Yep, little one, that is it.  I am clicking for THOSE feet moving.  It was both an Aha moment and a "where did those come from" moment.

We'll keep working on her pivoting with me, which is the most important part of wheelchair safety I can teach her and then transfer the lessons to the wheelchair in the house and then take it out on the road once I am comfortable with her working beside the chair and turning nicely with it.

I do not like Emma's leash personally.  I never have.  It's too wide and too long for my liking and I tend to put it aside when she arrives and use Max's old working leash.  I love that leash.  I used that leash for four years of our partnership and feel comfortable with that leash.  It's nothing special - just a straight six foot leather leash that is half an inch in width.  At first I thought I was just upset with the width of Emma's leash, but I also do not like Jack's leash.  It is narrow, like Max's, but far too long.  There is something to be said about a six foot leash.

I only need to loop Max's leash once to have it at the right length for Emma and I when walking.  It is the right width to hold comfortably for hours on end.  The leather makes it nice on the hands too.  A cloth leash, like Emma's and Jack's, over time make my hands feel dry and chafed, but Max's leash I could hold for an entire day and not feel that way.  The final advantage of Max's leash over the other two is when the dog does jerk the leash it doesn't tear or burn my hand.

I tell all my clients in my lecture that basic gear for a working dog is a six foot leash, flat collar and current tags at a minimum.  Emma's leash is at least 7 feet if not 8 feet in length and is simply too long for working a service dog.

Today I filmed Emma and I working in front of my home.  I worked on leash manners and did a bit of the circling I was talking about.  I also worked with both Max's leash and her leash.  You'll note that I need to wrap a great deal more of her leash up to work with her and keep her from tripping over it than I do his leash.

I want to explain what you are seeing in the video.  In this video I want Emma to remain by my left side as she works with me.  I want her to not pull forward more than her shoulder and not so far out that she's more than a foot away from my side.  When she lags I am not stopping, it is her job to keep up and pay attention to me and she's now old enough to take over that job.  If she lags I keep going and make her come with me without jerking or correcting her more than her hitting the end of the lead.  She is not to sniff the ground while we are walking.  Pulling to far forward or to far to the side will result in my turning sharply and walking a few steps the direction I was going and then circling back and going forward again - if she pulls too far forward again I rinse and repeat.  Sniffing the ground gets the same result.  Lagging means I keep going and if she hits the end of the lead so be it, she'll learn to pay attention.

You'll see that at first she was very excited and we did a lot of circles - we had not focal point this time, but that is okay.  This is a demo on the technique and not an actual exercise on a focal point.  She'll be doing that this weekend.  As she realized the rules still apply from last night she settled in and we started to work as a team. I am not talking to her for a reason - she needs to think and problem solve the problem; my talking will break her ability to do that.  I am removing treats as she improves on the straight and narrow, but adding them as we weave and do figure eights (she needs a ton of these too....just over and over and over until she can turn both directions fluidly with people) and as she improves on them the treats fade.  We are eventually fading treats for walking and sitting and doing downs - it's happening.  She's about to begin using these skills in real life.  During an actual training session a few treats for a very good turn and a very good, in alignment, sit and quality walking next to you is important.  She needs only good, top quality, performances rewarded once she knows the rules.  If she is struggling add more treats, if she isn't start fading them.

I am giving treats for calm behavior when cars pass - the same for people, dogs, cats and whatever she encounters.  I also set her up for it by clicking when she looks and rewarding when she looks back.  I have her sit or stand by me and I am watching her to ensure I am rewarding what I want.  This too is important.  Over time she'll have those treats faded and will be just working at your side like she'd done it all her life.

Until then, she needs practice.  This weekend and every weekend from now on she needs to be taken out and walked toward an exciting focal point.  Family is very exciting and working in silence and working this way until she can approach and pass her humans or approach and greet her humans is important.  Think of other things that excite her and work to walk her calmly to them.  Start far enough back she can work with you - 20, 30, 40 feet if need be until she can walk the distance and succeed at the goal.

It won't be long before she can and will be able to walk to people she loves and anywhere calmly.  The below video is boring, but shows me working with Emma in the moment.  Note that I do a lot of direction changes to keep her attention - when her tail goes still it does not mean she is unhappy, but focused.  When she goes into "work mode" she holds her head and tail like that and it barely moves - she's focused when that happens.  Note, once it did, she was working smoothly with me.  That is the goal we are working towards - working smoothly together.

Level 1
Zen Target Come Sit Down
Step Completed Completed Completed Completed Completed

Level 2
Zen Come Sit Down Target
Step Completed Completed Completed Completed Completed
Focus Lazy Leash Go To Mat Crate Distance
Step 3 Completed 2 1 2
Jump Relax Handling Tricks Communication
Step 1 1 Completed Completed 1

Level 3
Zen Come Sit Down Target
Step 3 2 0 0 1
Focus Lazy Leash Go To Mat Crate Distance
Step 0 Completed 0 0 0
Jump Relax Handling Retrieve Communication
Step 0 0 0 Completed 0

Level 4
Zen Come Retrieve Target Relax
Step 0 0 4 0 0
Focus Lazy Leash Go To Mat Crate Distance
Step 0 Completed 0 0 0
Handling Communication

Step 0 0

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