Annabelle in learning mode

Posted: March 7, 2012 in Dogs
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Now that her love need is being fulfilled, Annabelle has time (and focus) to start learning. The first and best thing she’s learned is that there’s not need to try to escape from her crate because one or both of us will be coming back to let her out, feed her, love her. This lesson’s not only good for her, but freeing for us.

Although she gets excited when a visitor arrives, she knows not to jump up (at least more than once) and she quickly settles down, greets him or her excitedly but with all four feet on the floor, and soon settles down on the rug or her bed. During Japanese lessons, she meets & greets Mrs. Saito, then sleeps.

We’ve used clicker training with each dog we’ve fostered. The idea’s easy—catch the dog doing the desired treatment, click and treat. Repeat often, then add the word you want to use (“sit”, “look”). Say the word, see the behavior, click, treat. Do this often until your dog is responding correctly all the time. Then switch to only rewarding with food periodically but do reward with verbal praise or a pat. The more difficult the behavior is for the dog, the more desirable the treats need to be. But most dogs are food-driven and food-responsive. Just cut down on what you feed each day if you’re doing lots of training and giving your dog plenty of food rewards.

We’ve started working with Annabelle on life lessons. Now she’ll “stay”, watching with fixed intent and pricked up ears unless I get around the corner just a little too far. She sits easily and at random time when she would like some food, she’ll come up to us, sit, then gaze into our eye and we can almost hear her thinking, “There. I’ve done something good. Where’s my reward?” When we’re in the back hall getting her breakfast or dinner, she sits expectantly in the kitchen, watching carefully. As the food bowl approaches the floor, the true test of “stay” begins. She’s getting better at it, as long as the wait isn’t very long.

“Down”, although she doesn’t really like it much, goes well. Our daughter says she’d like to teach Annabelle to army crawl, which she would do if you kept moving the food just ahead of her in the “down” position. When we’re out for a walk and I call her name, she looks, then gets her click and treat.

“Leave it” is the one we’re working on that’s the most difficult for her. I put a treat on the floor with my hand hovering above it, then tell her to “leave it”. Most of the time, she stops and looks immediately at my other hand which holds her reward. My next test for her is that I drop the treat, then try to cover it with my foot if she goes for it. I’ve crushed a few treats that way, but she’s improving daily. “Leave it” is a safety feature, not just something fun. It can keep a dog from gulping down something that’s harmful to it or keep it away from something dangerous. When we had our first foster dog, Janie, we were out for a walk one day when out of nowhere, a dog flew by me and grabbed her. But Janie was a pit bull and she wasn’t going to be attacked with impunity. As they went around me in a circle, locked together, me yelling and kicking ineffectually at the other dog, the owner’s father, who’d been circling the neighborhood in his Jeep, looking for the escaped dog, grabbed his dog…but Janie still had a grip on the attacking dog’s jaw. If she didn’t let go, I was afraid it would turn into what my dog was doing and in desperation, I yelled, “Leave it”, something we’d been working on. And she let go!! I was so thankful!  (Just to clarify….no dog will stand for being attacked, not just pit bulls!)

The last thing we’re working on is the staple trick in most dogs’ repertoires—“Shake.” It’s obvious that Annabelle sees no sense in this whatsoever other than a reward if she does this weird and useless thing. I started saying “shake”, then lifting her right leg, progressed to tapping it and now barely touching it. Whenever her right leg comes up and I shake it, she gets her treat. Now she’s beginning to shift her weight onto her left leg and to once in awhile lift her right leg up and to the side in a sort of “Is this really what you want me to do?” sort of gesture.

Last night, we met with owners of four other dogs and their dogs in a large, fairly empty training area to work on relaxing them around other dogs. Until you’ve done that, you don’t realize how crazy it can be. Each dog (brought in separately when the other dogs are hidden) is behind a semi-circle of barricades covered completely with blankets, towels and sheets. Then we, the owners, feed treats as quickly as possible when needed, trying to get our dogs to relax, not bark, not jump, just “chillax” as the kids like to say. We say “sit” a lot, “down” when possible, all while keeping the leash very short so the dog can’t get a good jump going. After fifty minutes or so of these, everyone’s ready to head home after a good walk and bathroom break. When you get home, your dog will drink water until you think she’s going to inflate like Martin Short after his bee sting in “Pure Luck” and possibly explode. The next mornig, best be ready to get up earlier than usual for a trip outside as well.

Besides all the progress, Annabelle is looking healthy. Her tawny body is the color of a lioness and her yellowish eyes mimic those of a lioness as well, but her personality’s anything but wild animal! She’s not skinny anymore and her backbone doesn’t look like an abacus. She’s starting to chew on her play rope. Every so often, she takes off as if shot out of an invisible cannon, racing around the house madly, her feet scrabbling for purchase, jumping over things, responding to who knows what in her head then, after a minute or so, coming back to our reality. When she comes in from the cold, she sometimes prances around the house in an ecstasy of excitement and warmth.

Her next test, though, will be when we leave for spring break and she can’t come because our rental house doesn’t allow dogs. Someone will be taking care of her while we’re gone. I hope the love investments made so far will be enough to see her through.

Update…just yesterday she began putting her paw up in earnest when either of us said, “Shake!!” She’s also doing very well with “stay” and “leave it”. She’s eager to learn, especially when the reward is edible. 

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