|Ruby's paw target - her precision is far better than mine!|
I have always been a klutz. I knock my elbows and knees into things, I drop stuff constantly. Once I managed to drop a quart of paint in the middle of a Home Depot aisle and it came open and splattered all over another customer's shoes and pants. I believe the color was Mortification Taupe. I am frequently apologizing to my poor timid Ruby for my incoordination and bad timing. She cowers whenever I drop something noisily on to the floor, and as the last person picked for team sports in school, I've dealt some pretty terrible throws when playing fetch with a ball or her Frisbee. She's stuck with me, though, and we muddle through clicker training together, something that requires good timing and on-the-fly finesse.
One of the most challenging things we've been working on lately is holding/hugging a toy while sitting up ("sitting pretty."). The first step in this process was to teach Ruby to leave the plush toy alone - as a novel treat for her since I allow very limited play with plush toys, this was tough for her. I decided we would use one specific toy for this, one she had never played with, and conditioned a "leave it" for the toy before we started shaping the new behavior. In conjunction with the toy training, I started capturing the motion of wrapping her front legs around something while standing on her hind legs - in this case, my arm. Once we had those two separate elements down, I began asking for her to clutch the toy. In hindsight, the toy was not a great choice as it's rather large. I don't keep many plush toys in the house so I need to seek out something more appropriate. This is a clear case of failing to set my dog up for success by making a behavior more challenging than it needed to be. Ruby is such a good, game girl, and she really seems to enjoy this trick, reaching out for the toy as soon as she knows what we're doing. In the video below - which I would have deleted in embarrassment if not for the theme of this month's Positive Pet Training Blog Hop: Training Confessions - you can see exactly what Ruby has to deal with in her klutzy training partner.
In my effort to position the toy so she can better grasp it, I pull it away from her and clobber her in the face with it. Side note: I did actually mean to record the much-maligned vertical video so I could capture Ruby head to toe. What did my clever girl do to deserve such a bumbling handler? My "clicker finger" is usually too early, too late, or just completely off. I'm going to take this soapbox opportunity to point out how atrocious an aversive training device would be in the hands of someone like me. I am so lucky to have such an enthusiastic, forgiving dog like Ruby who shines despite the shortcomings of her graceless guide. It's remarkable that we've been able to master things that require both of us moving at the same time, like our leg weaves, below:
One of the things I love most about positive reinforcement training is the high standard it sets for honesty. You can't hide from your mistakes, because they will come through in your dog's behavior. The beautiful thing about dogs is that despite this, they keep trying. They get bopped on the head with a giant zebra and they forgive you in the time it takes to click and treat and they offer to do it again. I think we can all take away something from that boundless generosity. Own your mistakes, confess that training mishap, get over it and move on. Because right after you screw up, you just might have the best attempt yet.
This post is part of the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop, hosted by Cascadian Nomads,Tenacious Little Terrier and Rubicon Days. This month's theme is Training Confessions and the next hop begins on March 7th. The hop happens on the first Monday of every month, and is open for a full week - please join us in spreading the word about the rewards of positive training!