Friday, January 02, 2009

I'm Glad I'm a Clicker Trainer

Saturday I went to Schutzhund training with Laev. This was my first time back since the debacle of the trial, and I still didn't have a good plan for what I was going to do about the field. Training departed from the usual agenda (tracking and protection on Saturdays) due to the training director being ill and a couple of us wanting to practice other things, so I found myself working Laev in obedience.

I was feeling pressure. A lot of pressure. (Mostly from myself.) I was coaching another member who is preparing for a CDSP trial this weekend (I'll be there with two dogs, too), and I offered some observations to another member who is working a young adolescent, but I prefaced some of my comments with, "I know my obedience training opinions are worth only a couple of Peruvian rupees this month...." Most of the pressure was internal, everybody was very nice to me about the trial, but there was some quiet talk to one side about training discipline. Lots of pressure.

And Laev was not cooperating. She was generally unfocused, preferring to sniff the floor (her worst floor anywhere, a big barn with lots of cat and mouse smells, dung, and general stuff) and just not "on." I mentioned that she was probably coming into season (she's been due for a while but hasn't come in yet), but that didn't explain her absolutely heinous retrieve. I was almost on the ground begging for a retrieve from her, and I was getting one about 30% of the time (first cue). It was slow when I did get it. Laev could do other stuff we were cramming for the trial -- signals, moving stand, broad jump -- but her retrieves were uuuuuuugly.

I getting really testy about the retrieve. Laev KNOWS the retrieve. She knows it. Really. I brushed it off with the explanation that I'd introduced scent retrieves this week and obviously that had temporarily confused all her retrieves, but I was still honestly surprised it was that bad, even considering reduced criteria. I mean, Laev KNOWS the retrieve.

When she did retrieve, she returned slowly, with a less-solid grip than normal. Dumbbell sat crooked in her mouth sometimes like a stogie. "What, is your mouth broken?" I asked. I mixed up retrieves with lots of other work, but it didn't get better.

Time for bitework, because I needed to get a video clip to accompany a KPCT training article for January. Laev locked and rocked on all her bites, dismissing my tiny little worry that there really was a problem with her mouth. She always has great grips.

Afterward, I wanted to fix those lousy retrieves before the obedience trial this weekend. So I brought her back out and tried them again. Laev would look at the dumbbell and just say, all but aloud, "Nope." I wanted to smack her in the head with the dumbbell. I didn't, but I did get a little sharp with her -- sharp for us, anyway.

"It's just not rewarding enough," someone volunteered from the side.

We are a very joking group and normally that would mean nothing, but this time I didn't take it well. "I'm going to reteach the retrieve from scratch," I announced tersely. "Come on, Laev."

Laev said, Nope. Not doing it. Well, I'll do it, but I won't like it. I don't care if you have hot dogs now, I don't wanna put that thing in my mouth.

Something took my body and walked it to a stack of dumbbells, where I exchanged our 1.5# dumbbell for a little AKC-size dumbbell. Laev resisted, but then started picking that one up. Slowly, but she was doing it. Why would she prefer a strange lightweight dumbbell to her own?

I asked an experienced club member to come and look at her teeth with me. Turns out we didn't really have to look hard; Laev had broken off a tip.

Yep, my dog is nutty enough to do bitework with a broken tooth, but she wasn't willing to take the hit just for a treat. I suspect she broke it yesterday trying to root a critter out from under our big old barn; she probably did it biting at the foundation. I felt like a real jerk for getting frustrated and short with her, but I also felt very glad that I hadn't been using an ear pinch or other coercion to try and fix the problem of her clearly just blowing me off about something she knows really well.


It was two days before I could get Laev to our vet. (If she could do bitework enthusiastically, she wasn't in real distress; I tried a temporary OTC remedy but found it was better just to leave her alone.) This vet works field dogs and I explained that I'd found the broken tooth when her retrieve went sour. He checked her mouth. "Do you have a forced retrieve?"

"No, it's trained, but it's not forced."

That seemed to settle him. "This isn't causing her real pain. She's getting away with being lazy. Tell her to pick it up."

I respect most experts in their own field, but my dog is my own field. Laev would pick up lighter objects more readily than heavy ones. I took her to train after the vet visit and Laev would do signals, gleeful little hops into a moving stand, jumps, heeling, everything -- but when I sent her for a retrieve, she stood over the dumbbell for a moment, and then picked it up and dropped it three times before she finally held it and returned to me. (All one cue.) It just didn't make sense that Laev would happily do everything else but "flip me the paw" over just the retrieve if this were any kind of dominance, laziness, other issue.

So I pretended I knew her mouth was sore and didn't do any bitework or retrieves. And then I started scent discrimination with utility articles on Wednesday, asking only for a nose touch indication, but Laev started adding the pick up on her own after a while. The articles are very light; they probably were easy. We played with that for a while, and then last night I asked for a full-length scent discrimination retrieve. Laev is still working on the scenting part (more on that later) but her retrieve is perfectly intact.

Sometimes it's good to listen to one's gut -- a little sooner than I did, in the instance of last Saturday -- and not jump to coercion when a behavior vanishes. I wish I hadn't gotten as frustrated as I did, but at least I know I wasn't hurting my dog further in demanding she do what I knew she knew.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey Laura,
Just a heads up,(short version) Hank chipped his upper left canine. I didn't even notice it, but some time later saw swelling on his muzzle. Turns out he had an abscess and needed a vet dentist (ouch!$)

Good luck! and thanks for the updates!