ClickerSolutions Training Treasures

Polly the Pistol

I had a fun day yesterday! It's getting near the end of the gardening season, and there is a place near here that is nationally (and internationally reknowned) in rock gardening circles. I have wanted to go there for a long time, but never seem to get around to it. So my husband said "Just pick a day and go!" and yesterday I took his advice.

I planned this earlier in the week, and called a friend that I keep in touch with on a regular basis, although far from daily, weekly, or even monthly! However, she's a good friend, and she understands. And she, too, loves gardening, and is always up for something of this sort.

So as we're planning yesterday, she mentions her new puppy. I, of course, immediately begin asking questions about her training (imagine that! ;-) and am dismayed to learn that she has the puppy - Polly - enrolled in a puppy class - set to start in a couple of weeks - which is run by a *very* old school compulsion-based traditional style trainer. Other than not knowing any better, I understand why this class continues being held - it's VERY cheap! And I know that is strong motivation for someone like my friend who is on a more limited budget.

I tell her a bit about clicker training (trying not to overwhelm her, but probably not doing a very good job of it!) and ask if I can bring along some things and try some clicker with Polly when I get there on Saturday. She says "Sure!" and I begin to plan.

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about trying some clicker with my neighbor's Yorkie who was terrified of the sound. Didn't get too far, there, although my Chandler cooperated nicely in showing my neighbor some of the applications (and I did some "Kittie Zen" with her cat who kept insisting on getting into the middle of things!).

But I felt that with Polly, if things went well, I might really have a chance to see what a "new, unformed" puppy is capable of -- an opportunity I never had with Chandler (came to us as a young adult) or with the neighbor's Yorkie.

On Saturday morning I packed up a bag with some extra clickers, a margarine lid "target", a black dowel stick with yellow tape around one end, and some boiled/nuked hot dog coins. Then I remembered that I better have some alternatives and added some string cheese, some sliced up "Snausages" (received at Christmas from a well-meaning relative and used only sparingly!) and some Cheerios. And off I went.

Polly is an English Setter/Irish Setter cross, and is twelve weeks old. And she is a typically wiggly floppy loving setter-type puppy. Just a doll! Obviously I was not going to have the opportunity to do three days of "powering up the clicker" as I did with Chandler, but I have since seen that often people go straight to training and it works okay, so that's what we did. I did start with about a dozen "click-and-then-treat" repetitions, and it took her the first three or four of these until she realized I had more and would quit wandering off. Typical puppy-short-attention-span-syndrome, and I wondered how well this was gonna work, but I continued on.

When I had first arrived, she had done a lovely "Sit" while Louise and I were talking, and I noticed it and told Louise that if I had been prepared, I could have used "capturing" to mark that. Well, after we got done with our dozen "free treats", she just happened to offer another sit, so I went ahead and clicked and treated, and then explained to Louise that I was waiting to capture another.

Of course, to Louise, this looked like a pretty wierd way to train, and I silently asked the powers-that-be if they would obtain Polly's cooperation in this. It must have worked, because ten seconds or so later, she did another "Sit". And it didn't take long before she was offering me sit after sit for those clicks and treats. (No, we didn't overdo it with those little puppy bones and muscles, but Louise definitely had to admit that all this sitting all of a sudden was far from being coincidental!)

Polly had also been doing a bit of jumping up for the treats, so I explained "Doggie Zen" to Louise and began it with Polly. At first, I had to click her for the merest momentary cessation of her nuzzling and chewing of my hand. But again, in not that many trials, she was nuzzling and then moving her nose away. It was not a particularly well-defined "move away", but I explained to Louise about raising criteria as time goes on, and told her I was quite happy with this. I also explained how you moved from working one thing to working another, so we went to a different area of the yard and I laid the margarine lid down on the ground and indicated it with my finger (a form of luring). She sniffed it, and I clicked and treated.

We were in the yard, and of course there were plenty of distractions, but she was coming back to the lid regularly enough that I felt she was still "in the game". And I had to "help" her about 50% of the time, which I explained to Louise I would probably not do when she was more experienced and also if we were in an area with fewer distractions. I moved back a bit from the margarine lid, and we learned that Polly could handle me moving about a foot away, but two feet away lost her. So I returned to standing one foot away and explained to Louise about raising criteria in increments reasonable to the *dog* rather than increments reasonable to the *trainer*.

We then went back to another area of the yard, and I took out the black dowel stick and indicated the end wrapped in yellow tape. Polly first bit it, but I went ahead and clicked her. She did some sniffs, and some bites. She also did a fair amount of looking at the ground, walking away from me, pawing at her face with her paw, and that sort of thing. So I told Louise that she had been doing *exceptionally* well in my opinion, but she was a three-month-old baby and was getting tired. And explained a little bit about "Calming Signals" and about what I was seeing Polly doing that was letting me know that she was ready for a break.

So off we went to the rock garden center (where we had a GREAT time and I only bought two plants - but I'll be back!). And of course, among all the talk about gardening and work and such, we continued to talk about Polly and clicker training. On the way home we stopped at a pet supply place that also offers training (and one clicker class which is given at a time I cannot make) and I got Louise to buy some stuff for Polly's general care and to pick up a brochure on their classes.

Back at Louise's house, we pulled out some of the new treats we'd just bought, and Polly offered us some nice sits to get them. Louise called her husband over to see what Polly was doing, and I couldn't really interpret his reaction (he's a very quiet sort) but he loves his puppy very much and I think he was happy to see her doing *anything* that caused people to admire her (which I was doing with great frequency - telling Louise what a great "clicker puppy" she was and how well she would do with this stuff and that this little neck really never needs to see a leash pop!).

I continue to hope they will realize the value of their relationship with Polly, and will pull her registration in that puppy class. I did a bit more "Doggie Zen", and it was interesting to see that now she did a definite "pull nose away from closed fist and move it to a point just UNDER fist" which she repeated in that exact way several times in a row. I told Louise about "latent learning" and explained that just in the time between morning and afternoon, Polly was continuing to refine her "Doggie Zen".

I left Louise with "Don't Shoot the Dog", "A Dog and a Dolphin", and "Culture Clash". She promised to read them, and as she is a very well-read person, I think she will. I also promised her a copy of "Calming Signals" (which I hadn't brought along) and made her promise to call me with any questions.

Finally, I said that if she still went ahead and brought Polly to that class, to remember all the things Polly did in just this one day without even a collar around her neck, much less a lead to jerk it with. And that if she saw any kinds of physical coercion being used in this class, that she had a right to decide for HERSELF whether or not she really needed to do that with Polly (and again to remind herself of Polly's own inherent capabilities). And to NEVER let an instructor take the lead from her hand to "show her how to really administer a correction"!!!!!!

I think I left her with a lot to think about. I don't want to pester her, but I'm sure going to be wondering how it goes and what they decide to do. Polly's a sweet thing, and she's just a pistol with the clicker. Please keep your fingers crossed that it stays that way!

Pat B!

copyright 1999 Pat Biessener


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