16 Months- Pretending we’re working on heeling again

Oct 23, 2005 | Stitch's Story

Next weekend Scuba and I are away, the following two weeks are crammed with llama show. THEN I have time to relax and start seriously working with this puppy again

Stitch has discovered a marvellous tool. Since she had such a problem with picking up her metal dog dish, I’ve started feeding her in a plastic container. When she’s finished eating, she feels fine about bringing me the plastic dish. When she’s really, really good at it, I’ll switch to a smaller metal one, and then to her regular metal dish. Sometimes, though, in her eagerness to retrieve the plastic dish, she flips it over. Scuba knows how to kick a dish into wall or onto the floor-rug joiner so she can hook a tooth under it and flip it back over. Stitch hasn’t figured this out yet. She’s come up with her own unique solution to the problem, however – when she finds her dish upside down, she kicks it around the room, closer and closer to Scuba, until Scuba gets excited about it, kicks it into the wall, flips it over and picks it up – at which point Stitch swoops down, snatches it from Scuba, and brings it triumphantly to me for her prize.


We work on retrieving today. I’ve been wearing sandals all summer, which are easy for me to kick off, but as winter approaches, I’ll need to wear shoes, socks, and/or boots which will be harder to take off. Time for Stitch to learn to pull off my shoes and socks. She’s parading around the house today with an elastic stocking that’s supposed to go under a cast, so we start with that. I tie a knot in one end, and do some simple shaping to make her love it, and to pick it up and give it to me. No problem. Then I make sure she’ll hold it firmly until I ask her to release it – just waiting longer before clicking to emphasize that she’s not to spit it out (I’m not clicking – I’m just saying YES, I don’t want to put the clicker near her ears).

Finally I put it back on the floor, have her pick it up and hand it to me a couple of times, then put my foot on it so I can put a little light pressure on it to show her that she has to put some effort into getting it. This is hard for her to understand. She’s very savvy about how much pressure she uses with her mouth, and she’s always been very, very careful about the things we’re working with. If I asked her to pick up a credit card right now, she might not be able to get it off a tile floor, but if she did, I’m confident there wouldn’t be a mark on it. She picks up the stocking, encounters the resistance, drops it, tries again, drops it again, then looks at me. Darn, I should have clicked for the second pickup. I click for each of the next two pickups, then wait for a second the next time, which she gives me. The time after that, I lessen the pressure to almost nothing, and she picks up the stocking and gives it to me. I make a big fuss about it, put it back down, put my foot on it, and wait. She tries to pick it up, drops it, then reaches down, grabs the knot in her molars, and gives it a tentative tug. Click, treat, big fuss. By the time we’re at the end of the meal, she’s really putting her back into it. Now I’m not letting her have the stocking, she’s actually pulling it out from under my foot. Tomorrow I’ll go through the divorced-sock bag and start working on the real task.


We continue to work on her penchant for doing laps around the yard. She’s been wearing her harness all day, every day. I especially don’t want her to get the idea that she can do laps when she’s naked but not when she’s wearing something. Several times a day, I try to quietly slip the long line on the harness when I’m schnoogying her. Several minutes later, I open the front door and send them both out into the yard with a flurry. Scuba goes ripping off to the barn after the cats, with Stitch in hot pursuit. When Stitch is half-way out the line (about 15′), I quietly call “Stitch, c’mere”. I can’t see her at this point, as there’s a large pine tree in the way, but I CAN see the line stop paying out, and then she comes back. When she does come, we have a big party, dancing around the front hall like fools, screaming, petting, wrestling. Then Scuba comes back, and we try it again.

Once in the last three days she didn’t come back, but she didn’t keep going, either, just stopped and stood in the middle of the yard. I backed up into the parlour, and after a little pressure on the line, she came back. I need to get out and go for walks – I want to go to the dog park, too, but it’s been really windy, cold and wet the last few days and I haven’t gotten around to that yet.


Pursuant to my resolve from last weekend’s agility clinic, we have started working on Heeling without food. I ask her to come into Heel position, we Heel four steps, click, and wrestle. Now that we’ve worked on pulling on the stocking, she decides she could wrestle with my pant leg – which is OK as long as I can stop her if (when) I want to. She has a great time alternately Heeling and wrestling. This could easily get to be a default way of playing with her. I seem to have the energy to do it right now. I would LOVE to be tired and sore some day, ask her to Heel, and have her perk up and leap into position!


Recovering from the llama show, we spend one meal just starting to think about cues again – randomly alternating Sit, Down, and Stand. Not great, but not bad either. She occasionally disengages her brain and just guesses at the next one – particularly when I ask for one she’s already giving me, like Down when she’s already Down. I want her to mentally check, realize she’s already there, and consciously stay there. When I ask for something and she doesn’t give it to me, Scuba gets the treat that was available for that behaviour. This is a particularly inspiring way of working for Stitch, and when she makes a mistake, she doesn’t make one again for maybe fifteen more repetitions.


Stitch and I spend a few moments on the Level Five Target behaviour – as if any self-respecting dog needs encouragement to leap up on the front door! Nevertheless, we work it. I get her to touch my hand several times, then move my hand toward the door. Her first few touches are tentative – she tries a nose-touch, no go. She sits, and reaches for it with one paw, not quite touching it. No go. I get her chasing my hand and try gesturing close to the door again. Finally she whomps it a good one with both front paws, and gets a click. OH! WHOMP THE DOOR! We’ll have to do this in another area next time, so she doesn’t think I’m talking just about doors.

On a training list, they’re talking about shaping spins (actually they’re talking about teaching left and right on cue for agility, but they’re starting with spins), so I’m going to do that. Stitch has an eager clockwise spin that she does while I’m carrying dog dishes into the kitchen, so we’ll start with counterclockwise.

I click for a head-turn to the left, for a head-turn partway back, for two head-turns. I can see lots of problems. While trying to lure a bit, I’m trying to toss the treat between her legs so she continues turning to the left, but it’s not working, it’s bouncing off her and she’s continually having to turn back to the right to get the treat, which is helping her forget what she was doing. And it’s been a while since we shaped. Scuba was so into moving that it was hard to convince her when I was trying for a duration behaviour such as eye contact or sit stays. Stitch is a much more active dog than Scuba was, and I’ve been rewarding calm and quiet and spending a great deal of her training time on duration behaviours because those are the ones she has the most trouble with. Repercussions, however, are that she’ll try something a bit and then she reverts to duration behaviours – staring at me, sitting, lying down, standing up, crossing her front paws. And finally, it’s going very slowly. She can’t seem to contain a thought for more than a second. She spins once, then tries a play bow, turns her head three times to the left, then backs up…

Duh. Blame the dog, eh? Let’s start with a plan here. Five treats for nothing more than SOME motion to the left. Good. Five treats for slightly more than that. Good. Five treats for nose to shoulder. nyeh – five more for nose to shoulder. OK, good. Five treats for nose back to rib cage. Oh, look, when she’s going to put her nose back that far, she moves her back feet! OK, Five treats for moving her back feet… and she spins. And she spins. And she spins. And she spins.

OK, I don’t suppose anyone saw THAT coming, hmmm? Plan twice, train once? Ringing a bell?


We finish the month with a very fun session. We begin with shaping the counterclockwise spin. Now that I’m In The Game, it takes 16 seconds to get the first complete spin, and another 10 to be able to start putting it on cue. I’m a little uncomfortable using a “left turn” cue for a spin. I’ve used an actual left turn all my life in the show ring, with the cue “Turn”. I use this same cue for left turns when I’m driving the llamas, and when having Scuba work ahead of me with her cart. A spin isn’t going to cut it in those situations. Nevertheless, I start telling her the cue is “Turn”.

Next we do some retrieving. I have two dumbbells, and I’m sitting in the middle of one wall of the room. I toss one dumbbell to my right, and toss the second one to my left while she’s getting the first one, and so on. This gives me a chance to toss it in different locations and build up her ability to look for it and keep looking if she doesn’t find it right away. She’s brilliant at this, she knows what she’s looking for and has very good duration on the search. I quickly realize that I need to put a little more effort into directional retrieves with her – when she can’t find the left dumbbell after a bit of searching, she doesn’t give up, but turns and heads back to the right looking for the other one. So we work on directions. I have her Finish with both of us facing the dumbbell, ask her to Look, and send her for it as a reward for seeing it. This works great.

We play a bit with her chasing my hand as I try to grab her tail. It occurs to me that chasing her tail would be a good trick. I try holding her tail and asking her to touch it, but she’s still thinking about grabbing my hand. I ask her to lie down, and that works better. I have to start having her target my hand without the tail, then move my hand further and further toward her tail, finally picking it up and then slowly moving away from it as she continues to touch it. Once I figured out asking her to lie down, this turned into a 10-minute trick. She really got into jabbing at her tail. Pretty soon she stood up to reach it better, and gave me a spin – OK, I feel MUCH better about this! The cue for the counterclockwise spin is now “Yo, Dude, Where’s Your Tail?” In that 10 minutes, she was responding to the cue (of course it won’t work outside a training session yet, but it’s a good start!), and giving me three spins for one cue. I can see “spin until you hear the click” happening easily from here.

Fun session. I missed training.