Thursday, February 14, 2013

BRINGING UP PRESTO! Taking Stock, Part 3

This winds up our little journey through the hits and misses I've encountered as I've begun Presto!'s competition obedience education (and mine).

Retrieving  Until recently, if, when playing word association, you challenged with, "retrieve," my response would have been, "What Presto! doesn't."  It hasn't been my first experience with a non-retrieving dog.  My first instructor and long-time friend Debby Boehm likes to say, "Anytime someone brings me a dog that has retriever in its name I can be certain of only one thing:  that dog won't retrieve."

Indeed, Cheddar, my now-retired golden retriever, drove me crazy for a year as I tried to teach him to retrieve.  He then became a solid, dependable retriever in the competition obedience ring.

So Presto! hasn't panicked me; he's just frustrated me.  I'd throw a ball.  He'd take off after it.  When he caught up with it he'd lie down  and chew it.  If it was a tennis ball, he'd begin to strip the fuzz off  . . . and eat it.  I jettisoned all tennis balls.

He likes to play with Kong toys -- the black Kong toys and bones are the only toys he can't demolish in record time.  We have two large, round dog beds on the floor in the master bedroom.  Presto! likes to settle on one of those beds and play with a Kong toy.  One afternoon I got down on the bed with him and we both played with the Kong toy.  Pretty soon I tossed it across the room.  Presto! tore after it . . . and brought it back to me!  I was stunned, but not too stunned to toss it again.  Same result.  At that point I quit; I didn't want to stretch my luck.

But we did it again the next day, with success.  I soon learned that the little rat would retrieve, if the following parameters were in place:  we were in the bedroom, the game emanated from the dog bed, the retrieve object was his Kong toy, and I didn't press my luck beyond three tosses.

Pretty soon I was feeling my oats.  I moved the game into a hallway that dead-ended at a closed door.  That gave me a restricted area in which to play our little retrieving game.  From my knees about four feet back from the closed door, I tossed the Kong toy.  If Presto! brought it back, he received a treat.  Initially I was successful about 50 percent of the time.  On the unsuccessful reps, Presto! would run out to the toy, then without picking it up hustle back to me, anticipating a treat that didn't materialize.

By the third day he had caught on .  He was retrieving the toy every time and placing it in my hand.  Then I switched to a Kong ball.  He snatches it up and brings it back.  Now I've worked my way back to the end of the hall, about 20 feet.  He's still snatching the Kong ball and hustling back.

Recently I tried it in the backyard with a tennis ball.  He settled down and began to gnaw the fuzz off of it.  We still have plenty of work to do.

Distracted Recalls  Competition, schmampetition!  The most important thing you can teach a dog is to turn on a dime and come when called.  That "exercise" can save a dogs life when an 18-wheeler is bearing down.  I put Presto! on a flexi and walk him in the neighborhood or in the park.  Anyplace where he'll go to the end of the line and get really interested in something else.  Then, "Presto! come!"  Pop!  And when he gets to me he jumps for a treat and hears, "Good come!  Good come!"

Presto!'s response to coming when called has improved since I've been doing that.  But I need to do a lot more of it.  Typing this post has given me a kick in the pants.

One caveat:  This doesn't work well when done formally in a training setting.  The dog catches on to the game quickly.  You are where the treats are and he won''t leave you or go far enough to allow for a substantial recall.  It works best on an informal walk with natural distractions.

Household Manners  Oh, why ruin a perfectly good series of posts about obedience training?


Wednesday, February 6, 2013

BRINGING UP PRESTO! Taking Stock, Part 2.

When last we convened here in cyberspace, I had decided it was time for a little accounting.  A report on the State of Bringing Up Presto!  What's going really well and what has me banging my head against the wall.  To continue:

Go-Outs  Presto! began learning the Utility directed jumping go-outs during the first week he was here.  Why so early?

First of all, puppy go-outs are really fun.  The puppy gets to run a short distance as fast as his little legs will carry him, snatch a treat from a target, then run back to where I'm kneeling and jump for the treat I'm holding.  (But not very high)

Second, there won't be a difficult transition later on when the dog who has learned that heel position is a highly desirable place suddenly has to learn all that stuff about running away from me, going straight, going until I tell him to stop, then making a tight turn and sitting.  He's nine months old now, and he knows all of it.  More importantly, he loves it

Go-outs and heeling are tied for the things I'm most pleased with to date.

Fronts and Finishes  Honeybear went all the way to her OTCH without learning to front.  Had she been able to front really well, I'll bet we'd have finished a year sooner.  Truth be told, I've never had a really good fronting dog.  There must be something in the water.

We're working on it.  It seems to be coming  well with Presto! But who knows?

Finishes are another matter.  With Bravo! I have learned belatedly that finishes that looked great to me were actually lousy -- because I was lining him up with my left foot, which points to San Francisco instead of the North Pole.  Now that I know, I'm trying not to repeat that mistake with Presto!

How will the little guy's fronts and finishes be in competrition?  See you in the ring.

Stand for Exam  I guess the stand for exam falls into the same category as Presto!'s staying put problem. (See part one of this little series.)  Fundamentally he's a wiggle worm.  He's fine on the sit for exam; he has no problem with hands on him.  But on the stand . . . well.

The PVC box has so many uses.  So I've begun standing him in the box.  And here we go with the baby steps again -- tiny baby steps.  At first I've stayed really close to him, initially letting him nibble on a treat, then dispensing with the treat.  Meanwhile, someone was slowly circling me and the box.  A few days later I moved back a couple of steps.  Now the circling helper was passing between Presto! and me.  And a couple of weeks ago the circler began touching him lightly as she passed his left side.  Then touching him twice.  Now three times.

Sometime we'll remove the box.  Patience, patience, patience, I tell myself.

Taking and holding  This, too, has not been accomplished at warp speed.  When Presto! was very young, we played a lot with a metal spoon.  Just to get him used to having metal in his mouth -- preparing for eventual introduction of the metal scent article.

Later I got serious about, "Take it." (Said softly;  there's no loud, threatening verbiage in any of this.  I'm not one of those idiots who's yelling at her dog in the next ring.)  I started with the leather scent article because I think it's the most, well, "palatable" of the objects I want Presto! to hold in his mouth.

Sitting in a chair -- up at the front of the seat -- I gently pull the dog into a sit, up close between my legs.  Palm up, I'm holding the collar under his chin with the object in the other hand.  I want him to move toward the object; I'm not thrusting it at him.

We're talking many weeks here, maybe 30 seconds a day.  Patience?  Oh my God!  And finally a couple of weeks ago he opened his mouth and took the leather scent article.  Immediate release.  Lots of praise, then a treat.

Then on to coaxing him to hold it, not spit it out.  Two seconds.  Five.  Now ten.  And that's all I need.

A few days ago I switched, suddenly popping the wooden dumbbell in there.  Same holding drill.  No problem.

And two days ago I went to the metal article.  At first he wanted to spit it out.  But we're coming to grips with it now.  Think positive thoughts.

Next time:  We'll wrap up this little stock-taking review.