Friday, November 2, 2007

Training Day 4 (yesterday)

I love Day 4. It's the day when we begin to introduce distractions - the first being an open gate. The dog has had three days of A-to-B walking and has tested the limits of the leash, and has learned that staying nearby the handler is the most pleasant place to be. On Day 4, they learn that distractions are to be viewed through the context of the handler. And they also learn an important lesson: an open gate is not an invitation to charge into the great beyond.

Since this blog is not intended to be an instruction manual, I will not go into any details of the exercise yesterday. You've probably already figured out that the exercise includes the dog on a longe line, you, and an open gate. Of course, this exercise could be difficult for someone without a fenced yard, but I don't have that problem (there is a way around it).

Pete is one smart little pup. One hard charge and one half-hearted attempt was enough to teach him that his pass to the great beyond was to walk with me. Once we passed the gate, he spent a few minutes rushing distractions, but soon learned to generalize the gate rule, just as he learned inside the yard that leaf and stick chewing are fine during a break, but when I started moving he was supposed to follow me an forget about his jaw activities. All this without a word from me.

Now, I'm well aware that there is a camp of trainers out there who really dislike that idea - that the dog isn't praised, cued, lured, fanny patted or coddled. "But how does he know he's doing the right thing?" they protest. Trust me. He knows. There are more rewards to a dog than just his owner's platitudes. That should be blatantly obvious by the gate exercise. Why would any dog charge an open gate, even when tied to the handler by a leash? Because he wants to go through it.

The reward for paying attention to the handler is getting to go through the gate. Not my praise, not patting, not a cookie.

"But you didn't cue him - how is he supposed to know what you want?" Ahh... but I did cue him. I turned. He spent three days learning that my movement is his cue to come along, and a lifetime (albeit a short one) learning that his human is is leader. I really haven't ever seen the doggie owner's manual which says that all cues must be verbal. Cues can most certainly be visual - I have two trained deaf dogs to attest to that, and one of them is as completely reliable off-leash outdoors as a dog can be, deaf or hearing.

Rather than bore you with details, suffice it to say that this smart little dog spent most of his training session walking well outside the gate in a position approximating heel, learning to stay on my left side and learning that distractions can be watched but not charged. And I got some good exercise!

Today's exercise will be in two sessions - a repeat of the open gate, and a session in a different place with more distractions.

Did I mention that he's already learned to wait at an open car door for an invitation to exit? That's one of the things I love about cowdogs. Some seem to learn by osmosis.

Now I'm trying to figure out when would be the best time for a break in his training to spend a couple of days at "Camp Carrie" (my friend's house) to be socialized with cats. Lots of cats. And a few other dogs of different breeds, sizes and shapes. Horses are not new to him.

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