Saturday, July 04, 2009

Time to play catch-up

I think I'm just about ready to resume posting daily to the blog. We'll just have to see how this coming week goes to see if I can keep up with it. The lack of posts means there's a bunch of "news" stuff to catch up on, so I hope that's not too boring.

The thing that's taking up the most time and energy lately is still Socks. We've been bringing her to obedience training class on Tuesday nights and making some pretty good headway. She's a well-mannered dog and very clever, plus she was already fairly well trained. However, she's also stubborn and bossy, being very certainly the alpha of her litter. And we're having trouble making up for some past mistakes.

The biggest one: she'd wake us up way too early and we'd reward her by taking her for her walk. So now she wakes us up every day at between 5 and 5:30. I haven't had a full night's sleep in more than a month now. (Last night was close, mostly because Siobhan got up to distract her so I could sleep, as the previous night, she was waking me up all night from about 3 on, so I was really beat. I guess that's why they call it "dog tired.")

The trick of dog training is that there really isn't any deterrence available. Dogs don't understand negative reinforcement: attention is attention, doesn't matter what kind. The only negative reinforcement we're allowed is some minty breath spray we give her a little zap with in the mouth, but that's only for biting. (She never bites hard enough to hurt, but she does tend to bite playfully, and it's best to discourage that firmly as early as possible because it can become biting hard later.) So when she whines, barks, or nuzzles you in bed, all you can do is ignore it. Eventually it'll stop if it doesn't get positive results, but it's maddening to wait for that to happen.

Plus it's hard to remember to give her a treat every time she's doing something that you like, especially when something you like might be just sitting quietly -- just when it's easiest to overlook the need to reward her.

Another technique that's a little hard to get used to is giving her commands after she's already done what the command says. It feels natural to give the command before the action, but if she then doesn't do the action for any reason, you're weakening the association, and teaching her she can ignore that word. At first, you have to say the command after she starts to do the action, so she learns to associate the words. But I feel so self-conscious ordering her to do things she's already doing on her own. It feels goofy.

But the results are impressive, after just a few weeks. Even have made a little progress on the loose leash technique which, given how eagerly she pulls when she's walked, I didn't think we'd ever get anywhere with.

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