Thursday, April 18, 2013

8 months - Environmental Distraction

Kili will be 8 months old tomorrow. I am happy to say that her fear phase appears to be passed (for now). She is once again throwing herself at random strangers of both the human and canine variety. Hopefully that was the last of that.

The removal of the fear has uncovered, or made more prominent, another issue. That is environmental distraction. Kili went from being a 7 month old puppy who knew how to walk perfectly on leash to an 8 month old who cannot go for a pleasant leash walk. She does not pull forward, however she pulls in every OTHER direction. Sideways, backwards, down, up. She's just trying to smell everything and put everything in her mouth. She doesn't want to walk on the boring old sidewalk, she wants to see what is on that lawn, what is in that yard, what's that sound, chase that bird! Food means absolutely nothing on a walk when there are all these exciting things in the environment. I can stick a piece of food into her mouth and she just spits it out. Get her back in the house or in the backyard and food is the most amazing thing ever.

As you can imagine this makes walks almost impossible. I have no intention of allowing a dog to pull my arm off. It's also incredibly frustrating. After going only a block on Sunday I was totally frustrated and fed up. Now, I know well enough to never train a dog when you are frustrated. It only leads to bad decisions. If you're at home this is an easy fix. Put the dog away. Harder to do when you're on a walk. You still have to GET home to put the dog away. In the mean time you are frustrated and liable to do something bad. So while trying to think of other things to avoid my frustration while walking home I started trying to be constructive and positive.

What was the problem? Environmental distraction.
Why is it happening? She's a teenager... her world is getting bigger and I am less important to her right now.
Is this bad? Yes, but ultimately no. It's a phase in her development. She is becoming more independent and trying to learn about the world. Independent thinking is nice to have in a dog. Confidence is nice to have in a dog. However, right now it is a pain in the butt and it makes my life difficult.
How do I fix it?

That's the big question isn't it? I have to find a way to get her attention back on me and off everything going on in the world. Which sometimes is almost nothing but is still fascinating to a puppy. A couple of birds, a car going by.

So we arrived back at the house. I had cooled off and I had struck upon my new plan of action. Jen Bachelor (Never Say Never Greyhounds) always reminds me that at the end of the day you should ask yourself "have I been a fabulous person?" and you should always be able to answer yes to that question when you think about your day of training. Well, I am (obviously, given the above post) not the most patient person. I admit to being easily frustrated and letting it show. I cannot change the person I was born as but I can work towards being better. When I'm a little frustrated or don't really know exactly what to do, I always remind myself that at the end of the day I want to do no harm. I want to train in such a way that my dog gets better, but if my idea doesn't work she is none the worse for it.

Here is what I did. I sat down on my front step.

That's right. I just sat down. I sat on the step and held the leash in one hand and my clicker in the other. I let Kili just take in the world. I let her sniff, I let her listen, I let her watch. The only thing I did discourage was trying to eat things off the ground. But otherwise I made no attempt to get her attention, lure her, or do anything with her. I just let her take in the world. If she so much as glanced in my direction I clicked and offered a really great treat. Then she'd go back to sniffing and looking around. Eventually she satisfied her curiosity with the 6 foot radius around me (the length of her leash) and started paying attention to me and giving me eye contact. I can C/T that all day. Then I asked for some easy behaviours, like a sit and a down. Then I got up and we moved 5 feet over. Start again.

Here's how it looks. You may want to fast forward through some bits. If you choose to watch the whole thing here is what you will notice. The first 3 minutes she gets maybe 3 treats. She is mostly preoccupied with sniffing and looking around. At 4 minutes is when she starts to consistently give me attention, glance away and then give me attention again right away. At 5:15 a jogger comes into view. She watches them until they are out of sight but then almost immediately gives me attention back. This was probably the 2nd time I had done this exercise with her. Now she needs much less than 4 minutes to start to focus. I'm very pleased with how well this is working out.


Never Say Never Greyhounds said...

Excellent! And so much better for it to be their idea. I hate begging for attention and not getting it.

I actually use a prong collar on Maddie when we "have" to walk. I do all my training in a flat collar, but when I'm walking 3 hounds for 4 miles... we just have to walk and she wears a prong collar and is an angel. :-)

Never Say Never Greyhounds said...

Oh, and I was a fabulous trainer today. :-P

Never Say Never Greyhounds said...
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