Monday, July 18, 2011

Cookie Pusher

Last week, I went and got the mail with Kumi pretty much without her pulling on the leash. She did stop to sniff at the mole hills, but she was able to pull her attention back to me.

[crazy excited cheers] This feels so huge.

And I did it pretty much the way we were told to in the beginning. The way that 100% didn't work at all. A little tiny bit of that is that we've gotten a better rapport over a year and a half of living together, but mostly It just took me this long to understand the approach and figure out which parts were important, and how to break it down for my dog, instead of the instructor's terrier.

See, even in the beginning it wasn't to hard to get Kumi doing a heel in the house, or in the yard. We wowwed the instructor with lovely figure-eights and patterns around obstacles. But Kumi's always been very sensitive to 'home' vs. 'not home' and it was an entirely different scenario when we were trying to leave home, or leave the car, or go anywhere. She just hit the end of the leash and turned off to everything else. 'Going' was the ultimate reward to her, and our darn cookies weren't even a close second. I remember walking in circles around the backyard and having her break every time we turned towards the gate. I remember standing in the middle of the driveway, having painfully won her attention back just steps after leaving the yard, and having her take the cheese from my hand only to drop it on the ground and ignore it.

So, what worked this time is I figured out how to make the steps even small enough, while still being steps forward, and not just more practice on what we already knew.

The one bright spot I started from was that Kumi has a very good reflex to sit to open doors. She would quiver with excitement, but she would sit at the gate. So that's where I started. I made her sit. I put her leash on. I opened the gate, and I fed her a handful of cookies. They weren't even particularly good cookies. Then I closed the gate, took her leash off, and we were done. I went back in the house.

That was that first baby step I needed.

After a few sessions, she was calm enough to watch me and wait for the next cookie to come. So I stepped to the other side of the gate, stopped, and fed her the rest of the cookies. At once. 'yes'-cookie-'yes'-cookie-'yes'-cookie. Did my best to not give her time to even turn her head away.

That step took longer, but she started anticipating the next cookie and hanging around me waiting for it rather than anticipating going on a walk and hanging around the end of the leash waiting for that. I'd managed to re-program what comes after 'we go through the gate' to 'I get a bunch of cookies' instead of 'I go wander around in the wide world dragging someone behind me on a leash'.

I did a little work giving her time to look away and rewarding that, which was, duh, the 'look at that' game the trainer suggested, except starting that game when she was looking away by default never got anywhere. I had to get her looking at me by default first. I had such a hard time understanding what we were supposed to be accomplishing with that, and what I was supposed to be rewarding, but 'a reminder that even when you aren't staring at me, I still have the cookies and might give you one any time' makes sense.

So, I won't say it was easy after that mental shift, but it was possible. We worked our way down the driveway five feet at a time. When we got to the end of the driveway and stepped into the grass, she flipped back into 'must go' mode, so we had to start back at the beginning of the driveway in the grass, and work our way down the side of it again.

After our mail box achievement, (well, the next day), I loaded her in the car and took her to the park and tried the same thing, filling her full of cookies right there in the parking lot as soon as she left the car. And that was too big of a step. I tried backing up and treating her while she was still in the car, but even that was pretty rough going, as she was much more interested in looking past me to what was going on than taking treats.

I think my next plant is to load her into the car, and reward her for a while before I start the engine. The next step will be reward her at home, drive to the park, reward her in the car, then drive home without even getting out. Then I'll start working on getting out of the car.

Wish me luck. I think I might have a chance this time.

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