Sunday, June 25, 2006

Self-Control, and Why We Need More of It

Jon and I arrived home late tonight, after a wedding. The dogs were rather emphatic about the fact that dinner was coming several hours late. Shakespeare and Inky lay down immediately in the kitchen, but Laev was having a hard time staying in position. So I fed Shakespeare and Inky immediately in the kitchen :-) and asked Laev to give me a down while they ate. Nope, couldn't do it. Shakespeare and Inky went down to their crates with an extra treat while I tried Laev in an empty kitchen. Nope, couldn't do it. She was so wired about dinner that she was having a hard time controlling herself and kept popping up to look for a cat in the next room, or to start for her own crate down the hall, or to listen for the other dogs' noises, or to move toward my husband's voice, or....

I occasionally use an NRM to mark incorrect behavior (better to let her know as she moves that she's already blown it, rather than waiting for her to run down the hall and wait in her crate for a minute before realizing that I'm not coming) and began using it here. (Obligatory trainer's note: an NRM is an advanced concept and not something I recommend for novice dogs or handlers; it's awfully easy to turn it into P+, which can actually slow down training. Sorry, my instructor's brain won't let me skip that!) Laev got about six in a row, which is WAY higher than I'd ever consider acceptable in a training session, but at least it was coming later each time. My goal was for her to lie quietly while I banged her feed bucket and walked toward the hallway and while Jon and the other dogs made noise down the hall in the feeding area. :-)

She finally got it -- I started for the hall and got to the point where I could see just the tip of her tail wagging behind the kitchen island. I praised quietly (conditioned reinforcer and keep-going signal) and then released her. She launched like a rocket around the island, around the great room and down the hall, careening off a couple walls as she navigated into the bedroom and slammed into her crate. But she got dinner!

And it really worked her brain, too. After eating she immediately lay down quietly and then fell asleep after a few moments, with not a single bark for her usual post-meal bathroom break. Wow.

Obviously, though, I need to go back and spend a lot more time on holding a position in distractions. She *almost* had a sit-stay while guests came in last Thursday, but she finally broke just a second or two before I released her; she was able to do it the second time, but that's not quite good enough. :-) I need to be more diligent.

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