The last few training sessions, the ones after our trip to visit Fiona, have focused on two main things: 1) What to do when we are on a walk and Bear is soliciting attention from anything that moves (including the leaf blowing across the sidewalk), or strangers approach wanting to touch such a cute thing; and 2) Giving Bear more play time to act like the puppy he is.
Before describing the new regime of training, it is worth noting that Bear is growing. We took him in right before our trip for a health certificate, and then one week later for a Parvo booster. He weighed 26 pounds the first time, and gained over three pounds in one week (over ten percent weight gain for those of you who like to put things in percentage growth). Here are two pictures around the water dish; one within a week of us getting him, and one after four weeks.
Too social. It became apparent on our walks during training sessions at Kristin’s house that Bear loved to meet anybody and anything that moved. It was very similar to when we walked Bear at home. He’d be doing great, paying attention to us, moving along at the appropriate pace, and then something moving would catch his eye. The greater the distance the smaller the distractibility, but the smaller the object the greater the distractibility. For instance, a person a block away is not as distracting as a person half a block away. But a little kid across the street is much more distracting to Bear than an adult across the street. Thus, a leaf blowing across the sidewalk under his nose registers very high in distractibility: it is very small and it is very close.
Our walks were frequently interrupted by a well-meaning adult (normally a woman) approaching with out-stretched hands to tell Bear how cute he is. If you were Bear, why wouldn’t you seek these people out, giving you such positive attention for just being. The small version of an adult, a child, was more enticing for Bear. I’m not entirely sure why, but it could be that they are simply closer to his size and act more playful. Children have quick movements coupled with squeals of delight. Often times the squeals of delight (or fright) come after Bear has begun “playing” with them, which oftentimes meant Bear had begun tugging on a skirt or the hem of shorts. Before being told that Bear is too solicitous for attention, we were racking all this up to more socialization. The clock was ticking, and Bear needed to meet at least 100 strangers. Well, I think he has far exceeded that number. Now we need to reign him in, making sure he is able to do his job first, and then meet people in the appropriate way.
Now when we take Bear on a walk we either avoid meeting people by crossing the street, or try to get the message that we are not social by simply walking forward with a stern face, or just telling them that we are training him as a service dog. The first technique is the best as both Heather and I have a difficult time being mean, especially to strangers, and telling people he will be a service dog (we’ll put his “service dog” vest on sometimes to give a non-verbal cue to people) more often than not elicits many questions from the passerby, and comments of amazement that dogs can be trained to do such things. At some point we will be able to allow Bear to meet people on walks, but only after he sits down nicely. At this point, Bear sitting nicely on a walk means holding his collar and crouching behind him so he doesn’t jump up. After in this crouching position, then the stranger awards him with adoration (no need for a clicker or treat).
More play. Turns out Bear is not getting enough play, which may be to the difficulty during walks (see the previous post about Frustration rising). As much as possible Bear needs to play with dogs in the neighborhood. Boo down the street, who happens to be the sister of my mom’s dog Mimi, and Sage, my niece’s dog (in the picture with Bear), are the two best victims of Bear’s attention.
Along with the needed puppy play, we will also be allowing more play. We will play more tug-of-war before walks, and we will do a lot of playful walking before we start the business walk. We’ll entice Bear to play more by stringing a toy to the leash at the beginning of the walk. Dangling in front of his nose, Bear immediately grabs the toy and charges forward. I’ll run along with him, knees willing, which I’m not sure if I’m supposed to do, but it seems playful. After he gets most of this playful energy out, then we’ll switch to business. The left hand business-walk, also known as “healing”, is much easier after he has burned off some of the puppy energy.
We have also started using a harness during walks to prohibit the pulling. At the end of walks, nearing our house, Bear would become a sled dog, pulling us forward, gasping for air as his collar tightened around his neck. Turns out the pulling on the neck releases endorphins to the dog, and they start to really love pulling on the leash. So Bear gets this harness that really limits his pulling. If he goes to lunge forward the harness pulls his front legs out from under him. Being such a smart puppy, Bear does not pull at all anymore.
Scent training. The scent training continues. We pair the scent with a signal. Bear finds the scent hiding under my knee or calf, and then he paws my hand. It is fun to see him figuring this sequence out. After finding the hidden scent he’ll furrow his brow and cock his head to the side, wondering (I can only assume) why he didn’t get a click and a treat. After pawing my hand or arm, with some direction in the beginning, he’ll get a click and a treat, and his tail wags.