Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Using a Whistle

This morning Coco and I were going out to the backyard to hang some clothes on the line when she saw one of the dingbat cats and took off. She had been so good about staying at heel and going to the gate without a leash that it took me by surprise.

I called her and used my whistle but to no avail. I blew it a few times and nothing. I knew if I went after her it would set a precedent and she would wind up going even further. Not knowing what to do I got into my car and started it up. And there she was. In all her bliss and glory running with this huge smile on her face. I opened the door and called to her and told her how good she was and she could not wait to get into the car.

And then it hit me, I don't need to set a specific time to teach her again how to respond to the whistle. All I need to do is use it every time we are going to leave the house and go for a ride in the car. I really like incorporating training with everyday life. It becomes such a natural extension of what we are learning together.

I remember watching a trainer on TED talks about how to use distractions and how to think about them. I caught a little bit of it but the principles stayed with me. All I needed to do was find something that was a greater distraction than the one that was causing the behavior she needed to learn, automatically setting up her to learn in a positive way.

So getting Coco to increase her stays meant taking a piece of fish that she loves and putting it on a plate in view and sitting nearby and putting her on a down stay. Each time increasing her stay a little longer. Each time making it a little more interesting by getting up and going into the kitchen to cook or do some dishes. Or putting the treat in another room and having her stay and then going into that other room and waiting there before I called to her. That one was tricky. In the beginning she couldn't last long but I put her back on her down stay, using the delicious treat to get her to want to follow me and then stay. And before long, she wasn't fazed by anything, a treat or where I was. All she knew was if she stayed in the down stay she would eventually get that delicious piece of fish. I used what distracted her, the fish to get her to focus.

It's amazing. Coco's own brain pathways develop and her own memories and thoughts and experiences become her own teacher over time. Cool stuff.

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