Sunday, July 17, 2011

Train-the-Trainer: Week 2

Visiting Pup Pups
6 5-week old Golden Retriever puppies spent the week with us at ECAD in order to teach us about the training that takes place at a very early age.  At 5-weeks old, the puppies are still nursing from mom, but also eating kibble.  They nibble and move around and play, but they are not yet the rambunctious, mouthy, squirmy 7-8 week old pups most people take home.  At this age, the puppies are starting to learn to "watch me", which means to focus on me and look into my eyes.  They are learning to trust humans by being asked to relax, even fall asleep, in people's arms.  Having the pup pups here was definitely the highlight of this week.

Public Outing #1
On Saturday, we all met at the Danbury Mall for our first field trip with the dogs.  The outing went very well, with all dogs and people behaving themselves.  At the beginning of the week, we rotated dogs because we don't want to form too much of a bond with each dog before giving them to the client in 2 weeks.  So for the past week, I've been working with Crisco, the most handsome dog in the kennel (I'm not biased, really!).  Crisco did very well in the mall yesterday, heeling nicely, pushing elevator buttons, carrying my glasses case and water bottle, and staying down through lunch. 
Crisco lookin' sly
Coming to Jesus
Also this week, many of us had, what Lu calls, a "coming to Jesus" meeting with our dogs.  I couldn't define it better than Urban Dictionary, so, at the risk of losing some readers, I'm going to reference the UD: 
Getting called on the carpet, dressed down, or otherwise chewed out in a severe manner. 
Crisco should have rented a conference room for all of his meetings on Friday.  On three separate occasions, Crisco completely shut down and challenged both Lu and I over picking up a dropped item.  If you've never seen a dog go head-to-head with a human in a full-on challenge, it's truly a battle of the wills.  Crisco's body language changes so severely as his tail drops, his eyes avert, and his body stiffens.  For a full ten minutes, first I and then Lu attempted to correct and motivate him to pick up a can.  For a full ten minutes, Crisco stood his ground.  For a full ten minutes, I don't think anybody in the training center breathed.  To be clear, it wouldn't have gone on this long if we were, say, training a household pet.  However, when your first priority is your client who has MS and Crisco refuses to pick up her dropped keys in the middle of the snow storm, you need to teach him that this command, to pick something up, is not really a request and he does not really have the option to refuse.  When it was clear that Crisco was not going to get out of his challenge head-place, Lu picked up the can and Crisco slowly opened his mouth to accept it.  This was as much of a win as we were going to get, so Crisco was sent to bed to think about what just happened and I was given orders to insist that he pick up the can upon being let out of his kennel.  When I went to my room two hours later, can in hand, in a fresh frame of mind, I placed the can on the floor, opened Crisco's kennel, told him to "look, get it, hold, bring it, and give" and he completed every single step flawlessly.  And then we celebrated like that damn can of peas was really the winning lottery ticket. 

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