22 Months- Putting Things in Baskets

Jun 30, 2006 | Stitch's Story

Scuba and I went away for two weekends. The first weekend was Kamloops. Scuba did a good job but was tired when we got home. The second weekend was Calgary – a short flight, then staying at my brother’s for two days before the seminar. This is easy time for Scuba, playing gently with the kids, mostly sleeping toes-up on the couch. Still, she was logey the first day of the clinic, not really responsive to cues and sluggish. Several times I thought I saw her limping. The second day I smartened up and increased her Rate Of Reinforcement, which did wonders for her attitude and responsiveness (duh again – can my forehead take any more of this abuse?). Still, she was exhausted when we got home and woke up the next morning unable to put her right front foot down. “Just” a pulled ligament or mild sprain. The upshot is that I’m going to California and Colorado in ten days, and I’m taking Stitch and leaving Scuba at home to recuperate.

Yowzers, that’s just downright scary. Yes, Stitch and I have been doing a lot of Service Dogging around town, in and out of stores, going to movies, etc. Yes, Stitch and I went to Ohio on the plane, stayed in hotels, etc. BUT yes, Stitch has been to a seminar, where she was horrible, whiny, fussy, embarrassing, etc. On the other hand, we did a mini clinic in Michigan after Ohio, and she did very well. On the other hand, I’m not ready for this emotionally. On the other hand, the longer I keep using Scuba, the longer it’ll be until Stitch is ready to inherit the family business. Prince Charles Syndrome.

The worst thing I noticed in the mini clinic was that her On The Road 101-Things was pathetic, so tonight we worked on shaping. We did several fun things – one was to jump over the cross bars under the dining room table – she’s never been under the table before officially. The next was to put her front paws in the dog-dish-holding basket, another behaviour that has never occurred to her before. Then I clicked her to grab and pull hard on a llama leash tied around the leg of the coffee table. And finally, I shaped her to get up on the couch. Strangely, this behaviour that she does regularly was by far the most difficult to shape. A good start.


Tonight I was thinking about fairly simple things that Stitch doesn’t know because Scuba does them all the time. Putting things in baskets and garbage cans came to mind. Stitch’s retrieves have been very good lately, and I’ve started sending her under beds and behind couches to get things that have escaped – things I would normally ask Scuba to do – so I think it’s a reasonable time to start asking Stitch to put away her toys.

We start with a large metal colander – a thing that will make a noise when she drops something in it. I gather some pens and clickers and we begin. I ask her to pick up a pen and bring it to me. I’m sitting with the colander between my feet. When she arrives with the object over the colander, I say thank you as I usually do, and reach forward, but instead of touching the object, I stick a treat in her nose. She releases the item, it clangs in the colander, and I give her the treat.

By about the fifth repetition, I’m pretty sure she has a clue about what’s happening. She isn’t GOOD at it, she frequently forgets what she’s doing, but she’s suspicious that supper has something to do with getting the pen in the colander. The hardest part for me seems to be blocking her access to the pen she just dropped in the colander, which obviously would be easier to retrieve and re-drop than turning around and getting a new one off the floor. This would be a reasonable easy repetition of the dropping behaviour, but Scuba taught me 9 years ago that once I start rewarding using the same object over and over, it’s difficult to get her to not be grabbing everything out of the garbage just so she has something to drop in again, so Stitch and I won’t be wandering down that path.

A good session. My panic is starting to settle down.

I was going to shave Stitch down into a short retriever trim for the summer, but we saw a cute PWD bitch in a full lion trim in Calgary last weekend, so I think I’ll let her keep growing her pack. Cute is good.


Another session of putting the pens in the colander. She’s got it now, as long as the colander is somewhere between the pens and me. If I move it too far out of the line, her regular retrieve takes over her brain and she brings it directly to me. I’m also noticing a distinct tendency to drop whatever she picks up, but I know that anything I teach will temporarily interfere with anything else I teach, so I’m ready for that. She’s getting really good at hitting the colander. Interesting that she picks up all the pens before she picks up all the clickers, yet the clickers are much easier to get into the colander on the first try.


I groomed her this afternoon, full brush-out, bath, and shaved her face, butt, and back legs. Then we went to a garage sale where we found a red hat with purple flowers made for a dog – and it just fit her. She’s not old enough to belong to the Red Hat Society, but *I* am. She wore it most of the afternoon and was greatly admired.


Another session with the colander. This time I added a couple of empty pop cans and a letter opener to the mix. True to form, she picks up all the pens first – she seems to think the letter opener is a long flat pen – then the clickers, and the pop cans last. She’s working now on about 90% accuracy with the colander between my feet – 99% if I count the few times she over or under shoots and has to pick up the item again and put it in.

I start moving the colander away from me. 6 inches at first, then a foot, and finally about 18″ to either side. Here’s where all those previous hours of shaping show their merit – she’s trying hard to put the pen in the colander, but her brain isn’t quite sure where the end of her muzzle is yet. Sometimes she misses five times before she actually makes a “basket”, but she stays in the game and keeps trying. It’s very obvious now that she knows the job. If the pen lands on the floor instead of in the colander, she sort of rolls her eyes and picks it up again. If it still isn’t in by the fourth try, she stops and stares closely at the pen, then moves to stare closely at the colander, as if reminding the two of their relationship. Then she tries again.

Hardly any attempt now to get anything OUT of the colander. The job is to move things from the floor to the colander, not the other way around. And only once or twice she forgets what’s going on and sits staring at me with the object in her mouth. Tomorrow I’ll add some facecloths and crumpled papers, and her practising will start looking like a real job. The next day I’ll start using the wicker dish basket instead of the colander.


And in fact I did both – added a sock AND switched to the wicker basket. No problem with the idea of either. She picked the sock first, but, having spent some time getting the WHOLE sock into the basket, she thereafter left it until last.

The first go-round produced 8 errors for 10 objects (I count initial errors only. Once she dropped something outside the basket, I didn’t count how many tries it took her to get it inside before she got it right and moved on to another object). Errors weren’t in knowing what to do or in approaching the basket or in picking up the objects. Mostly she put object and muzzle in the basket, then, anticipating the click, swing her muzzle to face me before she dropped the object.

The second go-round produced 6 errors for 12 objects (she found a couple of coin wrappers that fell out of the basket when I dumped the stuff back on the floor).

The third go-round produced 3 errors for 12 objects. The errors were one pen and both pop cans. As the go-rounds progressed, I had gradually moved the basket from directly in front of me to 2′ to my right.

The fourth go-round I moved the basket slightly to the left of centre. This produced a problem in that she was focusing on my right hand as she delivered, so she missed frequently. Error rate back up to 8 out of 12. Once she forgot completely and sat staring at me with a pen in her mouth, but I waited her out. Several times she circled, focusing on where the objects and where the basket were last time. Then she “solved” her problem by putting her lips on the edge of the basket so maybe she could get the object in the basket and still keep an eye on my right hand. Didn’t work, and we ran out of supper.

I think I enjoy errors more than correct responses, because the errors show so much about what she’s thinking.