14 Weeks 4 days- Cues, Tricks and Tidying Up

Oct 18, 2004 | Stitch's Story

FINALLY back to “real” “work”. I think the hardest part of Level Two with a new dog is not getting the behaviours, but getting the behaviours ON CUE. Stitch uses my words as a clue, sometimes, but not yet as a cue most of the time. Reading over what she knows about Level Two and what she doesn’t, I see that it’s time for her to “get a clue”. I’ve evaluated the L2 behaviours thus: a 0 we haven’t even touched; 1 we’ve tried but not worked on; 2 we’ve worked on, 3 just needs tidying to pass.

3 – Come (40′, 2 cues)

3 – Crate (enter, door close/open)

3 – Handling (ears, tail, paws)

3 – Leash (60 secs, standing still)

2 – Distance (2′ around pole)

2 – Go To Mat (5′, 2 cues)

2 – Target (end of stick)

2 – Watch (10 secs, 2 cues)

2 – Zen (5 secs off hand, 10 secs off platform)

2 – Sit (1 cue, no treats)

2 – Down (1 cue, no treats)

1 – DownStay (20′ out and back)

1 – SitStay (20′ out and back)

0 – Stand (2 cues only – eeuuww)

0 – Trick (choice)

Well, now that I’ve written it out, it looks like we’ve actually been accomplishing something. For breakfast, we work on Go To Mat. I need to get this on cue, and I need to get distance with me standing up, not just sitting down. I put down the dog bed and right away I can start using the cue (Hit The Rack) as she’s running to it and flinging herself down on it. She’s showing the same distance problem she has with the retrieve articles – if she’s within 3′, she remembers what to do until I stop. If she’s further away than that, she might continue to do it, she might go mat diving for stray treats, or she might start offering me other behaviours. Sometimes I toss the treats on the bed, sometimes I toss them on the floor so she has to get off to get them, then get back on to get another click. When I toss them on the floor, I try to get them around the 3′ mark to help her extend her remember-distance. And while I’m doing this, I’m walking around the room. It’s a pretty small room, but I can get 7′ away in one direction, 4′ away in another. It doesn’t matter to her where I am, it only matters how far she is from the mat.

Then we work on Sit and Down. Around the house I’m using the Sit cue too often and occasionally getting a stare – huh? You talking to me? I’ve got to stop doing that. Duh! As she’s still not thinking about the voice as an important part of the event, I’m putting my voice up – paark IT – for Sit, and giving her a big ol’ deep Texas Daaooowwwnn. Her default Sit has almost taken over the Down, so we work only on Down first. When she’s offering it well, I start walking around the room with it as well, and getting some duration. Not bad. 7′ away is no big deal – as with the mat, it doesn’t really matter where I am when she’s doing the behaviour – and we get up to 3 seconds on holding the down. Then we add the Sit. I meant to go for distance and duration on that as well, but end up doing random voice cues instead. 80% correct.

I start the lunch session by asking for Sits and Down before I mention lunch or get the kibble. It takes us a moment to understand we’re doing something – she Sits brilliantly but I’m obviously doing a lot of body language cueing with my voice cue to Down – I notice this because when I ask for Down she jumps up out of the Sit and bomps my nose with her skull. When I can see again, I ask without bending down. She’s obviously responding to the cues and getting 95% of them right. I reward her with cuddle-wrestles.

Then I get the kibble. We do a few more Sits and Downs, then start working on the SitStay and DownStay. To my amazement, she figures this out right away. I use 15 kibbles on each behaviour, and I get all the way from the middle of the living room to the other side of the kitchen and back. Not out of sight, but a good 20′ away. Stitch is calm and secure with the idea that she’s doing what I’m asking. For the first time I’m looking at being able to work on MANY behaviours with one meal as we tidy up instead of teaching from scratch. I get a driving whip, show her the butt, and we work 20X targeting, and I tell her that she has to touch the very end of it to make the click. She’s mouthing it, but definitely going readily for the end. Then we go out and work on Go To Mat. Again, at 3′ she remembers what she’s doing. At 5′ she forgets and offers other behaviours. At 4′ I see some definite responses to the cue – we were, we were, uh, I KNOW we were doing something… “Hit The Rack!” OH YEAH! We were hitting the rack!

Then we do some retrieves with the leather dumbbell, clicking for duration on the hold, and get her picking it up and up to 3 seconds of sitting or standing in one place holding it. Then we do some hold-in-hand, where we both hold it and I click her quiet mouth. Not so much duration here, still clicking for 1 second after the third chomp, but it’s mouthing now and not releasing.

Finally, we try a trick. I ask Scuba to stand facing me, and lure Stitch to go under her, then around in front of her, and under her again. We do 20 of these. I can’t really shape it unless I use a chair or something instead of Scuba. Scuba would very happily go to mat for an hour while I worked the puppy, but standing still and letting the puppy be shaped for running in and out of her legs is beyond even Scuba. Stitch cheerfully follows the lure, even when I back it off to just a gesture, but I can’t say she’s ready to volunteer any of it. So a very productive lunch!

During the afternoon we have to drive back out in the field. She actually jumps into the truck cab. I didn’t think she could do that. I certainly wasn’t ready for it!

And fun for supper. First we show off our great Sit and Down cues for daddy, then we show him our SitStay and DownStay. She’s a brilliant showoff, and I’m amazed at how that one day of intensive effort on the importance of cues has had such an effect on her understanding.

Then we do some retrieving of random articles from around my chair – toenail clippers, a small pair of scissors, a ball of llama yarn (this one went a little too well), a clicker, and a dishtowel. She’s not quite as good at retrieving in the living room as she is in the screen room, but close. The dishtowel’s hard, she’s never been asked to pick up something like this before. It takes 13 clicks for targeting before she thinks about picking it up.

Then we try something brand new. The standard way to teach a dog to put her paw over her nose is to put a piece of tape on her nose and click the motion to get it off. I tried this with my Giant Schnauzer – it was a total failure. She wound up offering me behaviours like barking, backing up, and retrieving – with a large yellow Post-It Note over each eye – and never did think of pawing them off. It works much better with Stitch, although after about 5 clicks for pawing she decides she might be better off doing the Sit and Stare routine. When she gets back to pawing, she isn’t anywhere near her nose, but she’s giving me a pretty good stretchy sieg-heil salute, so I’m clicking that. She’s mostly right-pawed, but capable of doing it with either paw. At one point she’s lying down and she offers it with both paws at once, which happens about 4″ off the floor and looks rather like she’s diving. Makes my stomach muscles hurt just looking at it. She keeps offering the salute after I take the tape off her nose, so we spend the rest of supper on it. My baby has a trick! I don’t yet know what the trick is, exactly, but it’s there. One of the best things about clicker training is that you can get a behaviour, see where it takes you, and not name it until something really cute hits you. Scuba shows which paw is white. Stitch’s white paw is her left, so she might be showing which paw is black. Or she might be saluting. Or voting. Or showing me her poor sore paw which will require me to shoot her. But whatever it is, it’s a trick, and it’s her first.