Today Alice went to my Service Dogs on the Town class (blog entry in a few days when Brad gets pictures processed), and was too trained out to attend Control Unleashed class. I still wanted to go, so I took Hestia instead. She was absolutely THRILLED when she realized where we were!!!!
I took a break from training classes with Hestia about a year before COVID as I was just too busy, and then COVID hit and I haven’t taken her to any training classes since. Which is so hard for her because training classes are some of her favorite places ever.
It was a really small class, with three people out and two people (me included) working experienced dogs instead of the puppies we’d registered with. So a much more sedate class than usual.
We started out working on a game—I forget what it was called, sorry—where the idea is you teach your dog it’s OK to look at what’s going on in the environment, but that they always get rewarded for checking in with you. To play this game we set up a pen surrounded with collapsable gates in the center of the room with a chair at one end. You have your dog off leash in the pen with you. You start out by putting a few treats on the floor to get them used to the idea that you’re doing something together.
Next you sit in the chair and wait for your dog to come over to you. When they do, you tell them how good they are, then get up and place a treat on the floor at the other end of the area or near whatever is distracting to them. Then while they are eating the treat, you turn your back and go back to the chair and sit down again. Wait for them to approach, then praise, get up, set a treat on the floor, and sit back down, repeat.
The idea behind the game is that it teaches the dog to both check out their environment, and it teaches them that checking in with you is even more rewarding.
The dog who went before Hestia left a bunch of treats on the ground, so Hestia spent the first several minutes in the ring being a vacuum cleaner! Then she started to catch on slowly but surely. Twice she jumped out of the ring through the gates! Luckily her recall is very strong, and all I had to say was “Hestia, come!” and she jumped right back through the gates and came running to me!
After all the dogs had a chance to do that, we worked on mat training some more. Today we upped the difficulty level by doing open bar/closed bar when someone approached us while the dog is in a down on their mat. What this means is that when someone walks up to us, we start giving lots of little treats in rapid succession. When the person goes away, we slow the treats down a lot or take them away entirely. This teaches the dog that when people approach them, it’s great and means they get lots of treats for ignoring the person and staying in their down on their mat.
Hestia did fantastically at this!
We talked about how eventually we’ll be training our dogs to let us know when they’re comfortable with a person or dog getting close to them, and how to tell us they’re not comfortable. This will be done using a chin rest to demonstrate comfort level.
Step one is teach the chin rest. And guess who the trainer chose to be demo dog? The only Chin in the room—Hestia! Hestia was OVERJOYED to be chosen to be demo dog! It was the icing on the cake of an already great night for her.
The way to teach the chin rest is to put your hand out in front of the dog palm up at about head height. Put a treat in your other hand right behind the palm out hand so that to get the treat, the dog has to place their chin in the palm out hand. Then mark and reward (it’s kinda hard to click this while luring, so I suggest a “yes” at this stage). Eventually fade out the lure (which leaves a hand free for clicking for those obsessed with clicking!). Once the dog gets the idea of the chin rest, then you start increasing duration a millisecond at a time.
Hestia learned pretty quickly how to rest her chin in my hand. But duration was tricky, as it always is for her. Duration is the hardest thing for Hestia to learn as she is just so quick with everything she does and in all her movements.
She started to get frustrated and offering up a paw in my hand really excitedly. I was still going for duration, which was amping her up more and more. Luckily the trainer saw us and told me to go back a couple steps to luring again to get her into the mindset, and then work only on the immediate chin rest. I will work on duration more after just a momentary chin rest is more solidified in her mind. She’s been so heavily rewarded for paw/shake that I think it’ll take a while working on the chin rest to get it in her head that I don’t want a paw in my hand when I put my hand out.
It also seemed to help if I held my hand out just a half inch below her chin instead of moving it down further where her paw could reach more easily.
After we all got the chin rest going, we switched back to the first exercise just for 2 minutes each to end class. This time there weren’t treats all over the floor so Hestia caught on to what we were doing right away.
I was very happy that I chose to go to class with Hestia! It was so great to train with her again! I love training Alice, but Hestia is just so easy and effortless to train with—probably because we’re so in tune with each other.
And after class I was able to talk with the trainer about my problem with Alice approaching counters and walls. She suggested whiplash and ping-pong training (see previous blog entries for descriptions of these) to help Alice get more comfortable. This idea is to reinforce BOTH the approaching of the wall and the retreat from the wall. This will get her more excited about approaching and retreating again, so it’s not all approach approach approach.
Hestia will surely be sad next week when I take Alice to class instead of her. But at least she got to go have fun today!
Picture is of Hestia, a black and white Japanese Chin, lying down on a blue floor right next to her pink diva mat.