Thursday, April 03, 2008

Laev Goes To 4-H

Somehow I became a 4-H leader this year. I know, I didn't really need another project; already my family and friends are cautioning me against burnout and nervous collapse. (I tend to... overbook myself. A bit.) But there was no one to do it locally, and what I heard about alternate programs was making me very uncomfortable, and.... Okay, I'll just schedule the meetings opposite another trainer's puppy class so I'm not canceling anything, and it's a social service, right?

We scheduled our first meeting for last night. I expected as many as three kids (low enrollment due to lack of leader and therefore no publicity), but only one showed up. No problem, we're going ahead!

This boy L. is in his first year of the Dog Project, with a dog they adopted from the shelter just yesterday. Wow. I had asked that the first meeting be dog-less, and we started right off by talking about clicker training. I gave him a clicker and wrist coil, and Alena (my sister and co-leader) gave him a TAGulator. We talked about the clicker marking behaviors for animals who don't speak English, and then I demonstrated nose targeting with Laev enthusiastically touching her nose to my fingers.

Young L. got to practice first with a human dog while Laev settled on her mat with a bully stick. Within just a few clicks he had great timing with our hand-puppet-dog (and earned himself a TAG). Then he watched while Alena and I demonstrated teaching doggie zen, with our hand-puppet-dog; I asked him to identify what Alena was clicking. He started to answer and then hesitated. We repeated the demo and asked him to identify it again. This time he hesitantly guessed, and we confirmed that yes, she was clicking as my hand moved backward.

How early do we start to fear being wrong?

So he got to practice targeting with Laev. She hasn't worked much with other people and usually has little tolerance for late clicks, missed clicks, etc. -- she'll just walk away if she doesn't feel the trainer's up to par -- but his practice had served him well and she gave him some great targets. I think he enjoyed himself.

Laev went back on her mat and we played the Training Game to demonstrate shaping. First he and Alena came up with a behavior for me (hands in large trash barrel) and Alena clicked me through it. Tough!! I got to the trash can immediately, but I think I tried every behavior EXCEPT sticking my arms in it. I even put my head inside and offered to sit in it! Wow. But it was really interesting to me to see all the ways that a savvy training subject and a savvy trainer could communicate; I would subtly change the angle of my fingers or their exact position on the rim to ask questions. Definitely not a place I could afford to worry about being wrong!

Then L. clicked Alena into going to a bag, taking out a pompom and waving it. By that time he was laughing and having a great time. Positive training is reinforcing!

I also demonstrated a first-year obedience routine with Laev, so he'd know what we'll be working toward. I'm a bit worried, because I hear that the other clubs started their meetings in January or February, and this is a novice working with a brand new dog, but on the other hand I have faith in the technology. We have just over 3 months of weekly meetings to get ready for county fair, but we're going to do it, because we click butt!

(Oh, man, did I just say that?)

Laev also went to second grade last week; a student had written to me as I have the job he'd like to have when he grows up. So we demonstrated shaping (Laev putting two paws on a chair away from me) and played the Training Game with a couple of students. Laev didn't shape so well for the students there, but they were a bit stingy with their clicks. It was very clear that she'd rather be working for me; with every click, she'd turn away from the clicker to me and give me The Look. I almost had to instruct her to eat her treat. Perfectly safe, but mildly irritated and wanting to just get on with it, "clearer clicks, please!" Not at all like Shakespeare, who I really think takes some perverse delight in teaching people how to use the clicker properly. (I swear he deliberately responds dramatically to a late click just to get the R+ of seeing people groan, laugh and slap themselves as well as his treat.)

So that was Laev's social calendar. I hope 4-H progresses well!


Shawndra said...

That is so cool! I did 4-H with my dog when I was a kid and it wasn't all that fun. Lots of yanking and feeling bad about it. Yay for the next generation of clicker trainers!

Anonymous said...

Can't wait to hear about how she's doing these past few weeks!