Wednesday, April 09, 2008

For the dog people

For most of his life, Oscar has been a dog who wouldn't play fetch. This never really bothered me, because he's certainly entertaining in a lot of other ways, but it was rather remarkable, the conviction with which he would NOT play fetch. We'd be out with other dogs, someone would throw something, and he'd look at it, then look at me. Occasionally, if all the other dogs ran, he'd go too, but it was clear he was running after them for the sake of running, and really had no interest in the toy. I did try to teach him once a few years ago. I threw a toy down the hall, he rolled his eyes at me, walked down the hall to get it, and put it in his room.

As I said, this wasn't a downfall in my eyes, except that a retrieve is needed for the RH training we've started. I need to put a retrieve on him, as they say, and the problem with that is that most of the methods involving teaching a dog to fetch who doesn't want to fetch employ a great many forms of negative reinforcement and negative training that I feel strongly against doing with my dog.

So I had to come up with my own way.

Wednesday, March 26 was the first day I started actively training Oscar with a goal of a retrieve. I decided to do clicker training for this, because so much of the behavior needed to be away from me and I didn't want even my voice to bring him back before he was ready. He's done a little bit of clicker training in the past, though it isn't our primary method, so he was already familiar with the clicker being a good thing.

For the first day, anytime he mouthed the toy he would get clicked. The next day was much the same, but by the end he had to pick it up in his mouth to get the click.

By the end of day three he was very interested in having that toy in his mouth and I could toss it a short distance (less than ten feet or so, I have a lousy arm) and he'd go to get it and pick it up. Possibly by accident he'd come to me with the toy still in his mouth to get his treat after being clicked for picking it up. I moved the clicker to him coming towards me with the toy in his mouth, and attached the command "bring" to the action.

Day four he would consistently go to the toy when it was tossed, and if he got distracted by something else, the command "bring" would remind him to pick up the toy and bring it back to me. He was still bringing it in my direction and dropping it towards my feet, but since we'd had such a hard time getting to this, I didn't want to push this and make it not a fun game anymore, so I kept on this step for a while. As days progressed, the ball would get tossed further away, in different directions. Sunday in class it bounced underneath a section of fencing on the ground and he was so motivated to get it he tried several times to get under the fence, and to lift the ball with the fence.

Yesterday I decided it was time to start shaping towards the "out" - thirteen days from our first day with this method - I stopped rewarding for him simply coming back to me and made a strong effort to get my hand under his mouth before he dropped it. I'd say "out" and pull the toy from his mouth. If he dropped it before I could get it, he wouldn't get a treat, or any other kind of comment, but I'd simply throw the toy again and ask him to bring. In this session, less than ten minutes long, he was holding the ball until the "out" about 30% of the time, most of that towards the end. I'll keep on this level for a time and gradually extend the amount of time he needs to hold it in his mouth before I give that out.

We did a second training session yesterday, and 100% of the time, he waited until I said "out" to drop the ball. It did hit the ground a few times, because I didn't have a good grip on the slimy part - when it did, I said "bring" he picked it up, and waited for the "out" again.

Today I videoed it. Not the most exciting video, unfortunately, thanks to this giant tree in the center of my tiny yard that blocks a lot of views. But you can see how prissy he is about picking up the ball if a leaf is sticking to it (he'll shuffle it around until he can get to where the leaf isn't in his mouth), you can see how truly terrible I am at tossing the ball (don't worry, that's my hovel I hit) and you can see that he's doing it, if not with his highest level of enthusiasm. At one point we're just off camera (you can watch his butt wiggle) and I say "bring" and "out" very closely together. He had dropped the ball on "out" which he's supposed to do, but my hand wasn't where my hand is supposed to be, so he missed. So I asked him to bring it again, he picked it up, and I asked him to "out" and he gave it to me.

There's also a long segment where my lousy toss caused the toy to go inside a storage shed, and bounce up onto a shelf into a coiled hose. I could see it only because it was a drastically different color than anything else in there, but it was above his eye level. He spent some time sniffing it out, then found it and brought it to me. This is really exciting to me, because it's so close to the final goal - where we need to be in about a YEAR - that it boggles my mind.

ETA: New Object (this is the one we'll use for the test!)


Blogger ellipsisknits said...

Thanks for posting such a thorough account of how training progresses in the 'real world'. So much of what you read makes you think it will happen immediately, and doesn't really mention dealing with the problems that come up along the way. This was really encouraging, and I'm saving it for reference.

1:17 PM  
Blogger Catherine said...

That is so cool! Dudley is a natural retriever, he was born eager to do it, but sometimes my throws go awry (we play with a rope toy) and it's so funny to watch him figure out where Grandma threw it this time!

My beloved golden retriever, Bailey, had the ultimate way of ending a game of fetch. When he got tired of playing, he would very deliberately drop the tennis ball in the yard, take aim, and PEE on it. It was his way of saying, "You won't be picking this up again."

1:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

GAH!@ I hate it when word press signs me out and then eats my freaking comments!
Um, I was wondering about the language you use. Is it standardized for all rescue dogs? I always used "go get it" and "drop it" as being more my normal way of talking, And you can get a lot of threat into the "r" in "drop."
He's a smart little bugger, that's for sure.

8:56 PM  
Blogger Amie said...

The commands aren't a SAR (Search and Rescue) thing, but we train where there are a lot of German techniques going on - people there commonly say "fuss" and "Plotz" instead of "heel" and "down". The German command for fetch is what sounds like "bring" with a lovely rolled ringing "r", and the drop/release command is "aus" or "out".

I'm just going for very short and sweet ("bring", not "go get it") and sounds that don't sound like another command. Oscar is currently learning a second language because I've decided that some recent bratty attitude might be linked to "No" and "Down" having similar sounds. He does every other command with joy, but looks punished when I down him, along with doing that hover thing you saw in a previous video, or my favorite, putting just his elbows down and waving his butt in the air if I didn't sit him first. So now he's learning Gaelic. He's much happier being asked to Breug (lie down) than to Down.

(you'll have to forgive my lousy spelling, I do know all the German dog commands, but not how to spell them, since the only actual German I can say is that I have a wedgie)

9:11 PM  
Blogger Javajem said...

Go Oscar! He is a very good student!

10:36 PM  
Anonymous Marie said...

Yay for Oscar! He is so cute. What a great training explanation and video. Thanks for sharing. :-)

11:55 PM  
Blogger Bess said...

Oh good dog, good good dog! What a joy it is to watch him. thanks!

7:36 AM  
Anonymous Nancy McCarroll said...

I am training my Malti-poo. Or is it I who am being trained? Anyway, it is hard work. You have done well!

9:52 AM  
Blogger Mia said...

That was great! Go Oscar! If only I could train my Cleo like that. It seems she has me trained. Whenever I throw a ball and tell her to "get it" she looks at me as if to say, "are you mad?!". (sigh)

9:25 PM  
Blogger Carol said...

Smart dog! AND smart owner.

7:36 PM  

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