Thursday, May 31, 2007

What I Did On My UDC Vacation, Wednesday

More Butch Henderson observation, more obedience. I didn’t see any conformation at all this year. I left the seminar early to get in some more practice on the trial field. Wow, Laev’s doing well, I thought. This is fantastic. She’s actually going to pass this time. (We failed the BH last fall.)

Well, that was brief. The trial field was a mowed space within a conservation area. I saw Laev alert and reached for her, but she was already off, chasing a critter through the tall grass. She raced up the hill and disappeared.

Well, there goes the BH, was my first thought. My second was, at least there’s no traffic here. I wasn’t worried about her being injured, just about the incredible reinforcement she was getting for leaving the field and myself.

I went up the hill after her, saw Laev, and called her. She ran past me but didn’t stop. I didn’t argue, just turned and walked down the road and around a bend so that I was hidden by trees. Sure enough a moment later Laev trotted around the bend, looking for me. It took a lot of self-control to greet her neutrally, pet her, attach the leash and go downhill.

Stink. What do I do now?

I got a long line from the car and had Alena act as safety net while I set up recalls right beside the tempting tall grass. No problem; Laev’s more than bright enough to recognize a long line.

I went back to the car, put Laev away, and considered. This was not the first time that Laev had left me for a critter. Laev has incredible, intense “prey drive,” to use an inaccurate but popular term, strong even for a type which has been bred specifically for generations to enhance predatory reactions far beyond normal. And she’d just had huge R+ for leaving me.

I wasn’t worried about the BH, so much – if we failed that, it wasn’t the end of the world. Laev wouldn’t know the difference, and my ego would recover. But I had to do something about her leaving me for chasing prey.

I racked my brain. I talked to Alena. And in the end, I decided to use positive punishment. I needed to suppress a behavior, and the alternate behavior I’d trained just wasn’t strong enough to outweigh instinct. (A dog bred for “prey drive” shows stronger reactions than a wolf, who won’t waste energy on difficult prey or when not in need – it’s very nearly an OCD issue with Laev.) So I opted for positive punishment.

I called a friend back at the showgrounds and arranged to borrow an electric collar. I carefully planned my training session, because I was not going to allow this to happen badly. The collar was set to its strongest setting, because I would need something powerful to snap Laev out of her obsession and because I don’t believe in nagging. If I’m going to punish something, it should be finished within a couple of reps. I decided that I would not touch the button unless Laev hit the tall grass bordering the field, fully committing to leaving me for the critters. No half-cocked firing. I don’t use positive punishment often, but when I do, I want to use it in the most scientific manner possible.

So I went back and set Laev up, carrying more of her raw diet and the collar remote. I worked her a long, long time, deliberately setting her up beside the grass, going long stretches without reinforcement, straining our training as much as was fair. If I were going to use punishment, I wanted it to be quick and clean and finished, no fussing about it, and then I wanted two or three days to repair any damage. (Passing the BH would be nice, but I also wanted to be sure that she wouldn’t associate the field with the shock, only the committed chasing, if necessary.)

But no matter what I did, I couldn’t get Laev to leave me. She worked well, in focus, and stayed close. Once or twice she paused to scan the meadow, but she never actually took a step away, and certainly she never hit the tall grass, so I never touched her.

Finally I left the field and went back to the car, stripping Laev of equipment. I hadn’t needed the electric collar! I put Laev on her normal flat collar and went to walk her away from the field...

...where she flushed a feral cat and a rabbit in close succession. Yeek! I dragged the screaming monster back to the van, loaded up and went back to the hotel, hugely grateful that I had not needed the punishment! but also still worried because she hadn’t tried to leave me and because she’d just been reminded of cool things out there. I wasn’t foolish enough to think that it just wouldn’t occur to her again – that was a lot of reinforcement for running away! It would just pop up later, when I wasn’t prepared for it. Still, it felt really, really good to have not used the electric.

The UDC’s annual meeting was that night; lots of reports and updates and business. Alena and I went to bed early afterward, because it was going to be an early morning.

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