|This is the face of a happy, engaged dog. It's my favorite face.|
Last month, for the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop, I talked about why I'm a bad dog trainer so this month I wanted to explore the flip side of that. Today also happens to be Ruby's 2nd Gotcha Day, and of the myriad ways she's changed my life, one of the most important is all she has taught me about dog body language, behavior and training. While we're nowhere near perfect, we've come a long way in our communication and understanding of one another. I've gotten her through some fears, improved her reactivity to most pedestrians and cars, and implemented management strategies when and where I've needed to. Ruby is a much happier dog than she was two years ago. She wags her tail more often and has the confidence to investigate things she's afraid of. She trusts me to keep her safe and I know our limits. I thought I would share a few examples of things we've improved on lately and what skills I incorporated to do so.
I Give It Time
When I started trick-training beyond the basics, I really wanted to teach Ruby to cover her face with a paw. I would call the trick "are you shy." The step-by-step instructions in my trick training book suggested sticking a piece of tape or a Post-It note to the dog's muzzle, then marking and rewarding when they pawed it away. Ruby quickly caught on to this and just as swiftly let me know that wasn't going to work for her. She found the sticky note mildly aversive and started avoiding me when she saw I had it in my hand. I tabled the trick for a while, but this spring I introduced it again, breaking it down into smaller steps. I decided I would use DS/CC to change her association to the sticky note, marking and rewarding each time she allowed me to touch her with it, beginning with her neck. As I started touching the sticky note to her muzzle briefly, she started pawing at it, allowing me to mark and reward and thereby capture the very behavior I was looking for. I realized I didn't even have to use the sticky note, and could illicit the pawing action by gently touching her neck or nose. Soon I could fade the physical cue and started using a hand signal (covering my own nose with my hand). This trick still isn't completely solid, but we've made significant progress on it simply by stepping away from it and approaching it in a slightly different way.
I Give My Dogs Options
Ruby is a very sensitive dog. She is uncomfortable with restraint and does not like the sound of metal (keys, silverware). This makes putting collars and harnesses on with their accompanying tags, snaps and buckles clinking a bit of a challenge. Ruby adores going for walks and knows that her gear is a requirement for venturing out, but if something gets dropped on the floor by some klutzy Ginger Sister guardian or a boisterous Boca bowls her over, we have a setback. What I've learned works best is letting Ruby come to the harness, rather than the other way around. It's less threatening for her, and by giving her the option to "put her stuff on" when she's ready, I've involved her in the process rather than forced it on her. She understands that the sooner the harness is buckled, the sooner the fun begins, and she will nearly always put her own harness on by poking her head through if I just give her a moment.
I'm Here for the Relationship
This is the big one. As much as I love trick training, and as much as I appreciate the importance of obedience (most especially with recall, something we will probably always struggle with, given Ruby's high prey drive and our lack of outdoor space to practice), what I'm most interested in is my relationship with my dogs. I want one based on trust and understanding, with both parties getting a say and striving to communicate more effectively. Last weekend one of our resident rabbits spent some time sitting under the hedge next to my front window, much to Ruby's delight. She normally can't see out of the windows since they are covered with window film, but we've been opening them for the cross-breeze on these cool mornings and evenings. She spent several hours perched on the back of the loveseat, watching out the screen, quivering with excitement, wagging her tail from side to side and fantasizing about how it would taste, no doubt. One evening she jumped onto the back of the sofa, glanced at the curtain, then looked pointedly at my dad and quietly grunt-barked at him. We both knew exactly what she meant - she wanted the curtain and the window open so she could see her rabbit! Would some consider that demanding? I considered it incredibly smart and kind of amazing - another species communicating her desires to another. These moments are outside the definition of training in a traditional sense, but they solidify my determination to keep learning and keep listening, which is what training means to me.
This post is part of the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop, hosted by Cascadian Nomads, Tenacious Little Terrier and Rubicon Days. The hop happens on the first Monday of every month and stays open for a full week. Please join us in spreading the word about the rewards of positive training!