We go out to the agility equipment for lunch. As usual, she gallops up the contact trainer and looks for kibble at the bottom of the contact. X10. Then we move to the dogwalk that she fell off yesterday. She runs up it with no trouble. She’s going so fast she frequently passes kibble I’ve left along the horizontal surface. X20. When I call her away from the dogwalk, she comes away nicely, but if I don’t pay attention she gallops back over to the contact trainer.
I have to walk by the teeter on the way back into the house, so I stop there. I don’t have any jumps set up to block the tilt. Hmm, what can I do that won’t screw her up too badly? I get her to commit all four feet to walking up it, then call her back down. X10. That’s five different ramps she’ll commit to. Then I put a handful of kibble at the bottom of the tipped contact, pick her up, and hold her securely at the fulcrum with her paws just resting on the board. I let it tip very, very slowly, then release her and lure her down the board to the contact kibble. She’s not exceptionally happy about this. By the third time, however, her paws are working while the board is tipping, trying to get away to run down the board to the contact. It occurs to me (better late than never) that I’m backchaining the teeter. First she learned the bottom contact (on the contact trainer, and practised it again on the dogwalk) and to run the board. Now she’s learning the tilt. When she’s got that, I can add the up contact that she already knows, put them together and have the entire teeter. Maybe. Not a way I’ve done it before, but we’ll see how it goes.
To a casual observer, her retrieve may not appear much better than it was two weeks ago, but in Life in general, there’s been a huge change. I’ve been thinking for weeks that I really ought to start negotiating a trade deal with her – where I trade anything she brings me for a cookie or a toy – especially as she starts teething and can’t take a step without having something in her mouth. And because I’m lazy I haven’t bothered starting yet. The last few days, all on her own, she’s started bringing me things. My shoes. Empty pop cans. Mitts. Dishtowels. Socks. Toys. Measuring cups. Leashes. My purse. A telephone. And she seems pleased when I admire them and take them away from her. I always give her a cuddle or a wrestle if I don’t have a kibble available. Still, I’m quite astonished at how cheerfully she hands me these treasures.
We start supper by working her paw target up to 18″. She gets a little sloppy, sometimes hitting the target, sometimes the couch, but she definitely knows the job and just needs some practise in getting her paw up that high. Target X30.
Then, after all that talk about not actively teaching her to hold rather than just bring, I chicken out. I take the leather dumbbell. I hold it at muzzle-height and ask for some duration.
If this was my first clicker dog, if I didn’t have a TON of faith in The Force, this would be a serious problem. This is a DO-SOMETHING dog. She doesn’t like to sit and do nothing. Where I had a nice 2-second hold, I now get an iffy 1-second hold. She tries holding it in her lips instead of in her mouth. She tries chin-bumping. My, she’s very good at chin-bumping. She can chin-bump the dumbbell 12 times in between bites. She tries holding it by the end. She tries paw-targeting it. She whines. She lies down. She lies down and gives me Princess Paw. Finally I start sitting back, crossing my arms, and looking at the ceiling when she lies down. Three of those and she gets the message that I’m DEFINITELY not paying for lying down.
So, at the beginning we have a good 2-second hold every time I present the dumbbell. After 20, we have a poor 1-second hold one in 5 times I present it. But I have faith. This is NOT my first clicker dog. We keep working. Suddenly she tries a good hold. I let it go for 3 seconds, click it. The light at the end of the tunnel. (My computer will say, in a dolorous voice, The light you see at the end of the tunnel is the headlight of a fast-approaching train.)
At the end of the meal, we have a good 3 second hold every 1.5 times I present the dumbbell. I’m hard-pressed to define “a good hold”. She takes it firmly in her mouth, locks eyes with me, and just seems to settle back into her body. When she does this, I can loosen my grip on the dumbbell and let her hold the weight of it a bit. She certainly isn’t ready for me to let go of it, but she felt the weight of it several times without letting go. A good session with a noticeable improvement.