Thursday, April 10, 2008

Jasper Class

Tomorrow is our third dog obedience class (though only Jasper's second, since the first one was just for the humans). The school that we chose uses clicker training. I had heard of this before, because people also use it for horses, but had never actually tried it myself. The way that it works is that you use a "click" from a little plastic and metal device to mark the desired behavior, and then follow it up with a treat (usually food). This is supposed to be better than using the treat alone, because often you cannot feed the dog the treat fast enough to correlate exactly with the behavior that you are praising, or the behavior occurs too far away to immediately reward with food.

We were skeptical, especially since we thought the clicking noise might totally freak Jasper out, but it seemed to be worth a try. Plus, this method is used by all of the recommended trainers around here. At our first class (the one without Jasper), we were given our clicker and sent home to teach Jasper the click-treat correlation. Upon learning that Jasper was shy, the teacher instructed us to start off by clicking the device in a different room (so I would click in the kitchen, and Alex would give Jasper a treat in the living room), and then move closer but kept the clicker muffled in a pocket for a couple of days. By the end of the week, Jasper was accepting the noise, and certainly enjoying the little treats that he was getting basically for free in this phase! Once the clicker became OK, we started to click and treat for attention. Jasper had a leg up on this concept, because we have always rewarded him for looking at us, especially when we say his name. That was pretty much the only training we could do with him for the first month or so when he was permanently encamped under the coffee table! Now he loves to rest his head on the couch and gaze at us...probably because we often share food with him, which initially was a way to build rapport and try to overcome shyness. Now that he leaps up and runs into the kitchen when he hears us rustling around in there, we could probably back off on this!

Last week, the first class with the dogs, we had free playtime at the beginning. Jasper loved it, since he is very sociable with other dogs. He was also a star at most of the other things we worked on: we had already taught him "sit" and "down" at home.

Good down!

He was not as good at "stand" from a seated position...he kept trying hard to keep his butt on the floor while reaching for the treat in front of his nose! Maybe this bodes well for "stay," which we haven't taught yet. He was also a complete failure at attention walking, which is where you walk along next to or in front of the dog and click/treat when the dog gives you eye contact. Jasper looks absolutely everywhere else but at us...perhaps because he trusts us and wants to keep an eye on everything else. So we've been working on that a bit at home this week. I've found that what works best is to sit him in front of me and do click-and-treat for eye contact, so he gets into that zone. After a minute or so of this, we start walking, and he usually offers some looks, which become more frequent when he sees that he's getting rewarded for it. (Nice to see those cogs moving in there.) The reason this exercise is so important is that in the future, it leads to good loose-leash walking, which is a stage we would very much like Jasper to reach. As he has gained confidence in the world, he has also started pulling like crazy on the leash, especially at the beginning of our walks!

The other fun thing we have been working on is a touch stick. This is a dowel with some tape (the "target") at one end. The dog learns to touch it with his nose, and once that behavior is established, the stick can be used to "shape" other behaviors, for example guiding the dog to turn in a circle. Initially, Jasper was VERY opposed to this idea, which is not surprising for a dog who has probably been whacked with things in the past. I had to start working with him right on his sleeping pad, where he is most comfortable, and with the stick on the floor. Slowly, I was able to go from sitting on the floor, to squatting, to standing, and we now practice in other parts of the house. As you can see, he is definitely catching on:

To the left...

To the right...

No hokey-pokey yet! Though we are working on "shake," which he will now try to do with no prompting at all when we pull out his bedtime treat. In fact, he waved his paw at me earlier when what I was really asking for was "down." All in good time, I suppose!

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