Lots of First of Mays This Year!
I can’t tell you how much fun I’ve been having training the new puppies, Coyote and Squirrel, pictured here.
These two puppies have really put a huge hole in my schedule-just the time spent playing with them would be a lot of training, but the thing is, the older dogs need even more one-on-one daddy play time than they’ve ever needed before. Hey, I admit, they have some justification in their jealosies of the puppillons. Ha ha-that’s what we call them around here-they aren’t circus dogs yet! Heck, they aren’t even First of Mays!
A First of May is a Circus Rookie-someone who’s on a “Show” for the first time. Notice I say “on” not “in.” Trust me, it’s easy to fall off of a show. Anyway, my buddy, and Mutt-Cracker (SWEET!) partner, Rich, will actually be a First of May starting on May 1st-that is so cool and I am insanely jealous! Good luck Rich, and see you down the road (I really love that one)! I’m sure we’ll be hearing about his adventures as the season progresses.
Anyway, it’s all clicker training around here at Circus Chickendog World Headquarters, and if you want to know what super secret techniques I’ve been up to, get ready…..
Eye Contact! That’s it-Really!
Here’s the thing, if you can’t get your dog’s attention, no way is he going to even hear what you have to say, let alone actually do it outside of a highly-controlled environment. HA! I laugh at the very thought. Hardy har!
Eye contact is the first link in a long chain of foundation skills needed before you have a decent chance of getting your dog under control in a distracting setting.
Ok, so that’s the first link in the chain, but I should mention the very anchor point, of that chain. As Squirrel was running around, ignoring the treats in my hand, I started thinking-it’s just what I do when I get bored. At this point in his circus dog career, Squirrel is so ignorant of the world he hasn’t even figured out what food. The money and effort I spend on finding food he wants…..it isn’t worth going into! Anyway, while watching him ignore food, I realized that even before getting eye contact, I need to have a way to ask for it.
But first, a guilty admission. What with all the new-puppillon excitement, I’d gotten ahead of myself, teaching the pups to go through a tube for a routine that Rich says will be worth doing (understatement). Coyote was spontaneously running through over and over-it was so funny seeing him looking at me, judging how to get that in my hand treat-he was sure that coming over wouldn’t do it 😉 – then looking 90 degrees, catch sight of the tube and physically jump, startled by….AN IDEA!; look back at me and then go right through the tube for his click. Then, of course (sorry for the boring part), he got to where he was just going through it like you’d lift your spoon to eat cereal.
Squirrel? Not so enthusiastic. I mean he was doing it, but I’d cheated with quite a bit of luring and I felt sullied, knowing that it would come back to haunt me if I didn’t free shape with him. Time was, I thought Coyote was going to be the more mischievous of the two, hence his name, but no, he will listen and consider his actions-ok not a good sign as a predictor of future malfaesence, but Squirrel? That dog is totally at the mercy of every sound, emotion, jealosy, and chemical explosion in his brain as far as I can tell.
So I had free-shaped the eye contact, no problem, and I started thinking about how I’d get that eye contact, ie, what is going to cue eye contact? And I was excited to think about this revolutionary idea (it’s so embarrassing to think about this now)! Nobody has a cue for eye contact, right? I realized while working with Moose that, DUH!, the cue for eye contact is the dog’s name.
Trust me, this is the type of stuff I rediscover practically every day; when I’m lucky. When I want Mouse to do his amazing stay-on-me while I do a full back roll, it’s tough to think about simple eye contact. But it does help with everything, the most advanced stuff included-and it may be as simple an explanation as it shows the pup that he can be right. But if he’s distracted by those screaming meteors of cats and dogs coming down at you in the middle of a thunderstorm; and then you can can get their focused attention in the midst of that? Boom! That’s how you huddle up as a team for assignments (RUN! (but this way)) and get out of there.