Hands on Heads People!

This Stuff’s Easy!

I'm still in a daze at having this much cuteness constantly around.
I’m still in a daze at having this much cuteness constantly around.

There is so much going on in my life right now that my head should be exploding. But I fret not, for I have internalized the sweet knowledge that soon enough I’ll be dead; the race will be run and I can double over, panting in exhaustion, gasping, about to puke, if not actually puking. Ha ha-I was taught to never ever double over. Stand up straight, hands on head, winning didn’t really tax me much. “If you puke, puke standing up proud,” some coach might have once said.

Sure, I should be concentrating on actual dog routines but at this point there would be so much pressure to get them “right” that my head would explode; or more likely I’d ruin the tricks altogether. No, I simply can’t even consider going to all the trouble of setting up the different scenes to have the dogs go through their routines. In David Lynch’s book “Catching the Big Fish,” (and I’m going by memory here, so that might not be the guy, the book, or even a close paraphrasing of this possibly fictional person’s ideas) he mentions a childhood (likely make-believe) friend’s father saying something along the lines of, “(and why do I use a quotation mark after all that prevarication?) It takes four (a total guess at the correct number) concentrated hours of effort to get one hour’s actual work done.” I just wish I could approach that kind of efficiency.

Happily, every single dog training seminar for Freestyle, the closest dog competition to my dog performances, hammers home the idea that one never ever go through the actual routine until the competition. If the dog really knows each individual “behavior” (I prefer the term “trick”) (s)he’ll do it when it’s cued. And I am totally confident that my dogs know their tricks.

I’ve been talking recently in posts about teaching the retrieve and that’s what I’ve been falling back on for training during these very stressful days-and the stresses are totally non-show related. With six dogs, a parrot, my juggling and unicycling skills I have no worries about filling an hour of riveting entertainment. Plus, for this show I’ve added five other performers that I go and watch regularly to play with me and the dogs….well, look, the stresses I’m dealing with come from some people that refuse to honor commitments-written ones in some cases! In times like this I just think about what horrible things must be going on in their lives and psyches and be thankful that I’m not actually them. Knowing that they exist is plenty bad, and dealing with them??? it could be debilitating to one weaker than a six-time Ironman finisher.

So what do I do with the dogs when I’m under this kind of stress? I keep practicing their retrieves! And guess what? That’s become a great backdoor way to get the dogs to work on their tricks. Plus I’m adding a tertiary reinforcer. Instead of getting a click they get me to throw a toy to “mark” the behavior. Here’s the thing-they know the behaviors so a clicker becomes less important as a marker. What I really, ultimately, want is dogs that’ll interact with puppets. Each dog is at a different stage with the retrieving but they’ve all learned that toys are a great way to get treats. Except for Squirrel anyway. Squirrel simply does not care about treats at all. I just have her out during all of the other dogs’ sessions-I throw a toy to the other dog who performs his level of retrieve and I click and treat appropriately and then just throw a toy to Squirrel who plays with her toy until I get the other dog to chase his toy.

So the dogs have gotten good enough at having toy drive at this point that I can get them to do their show tricks to get the toy!

What’s the point here? Keep it fun-don’t worry about the ultimate goal of your dog making you look good in front of that person of the same or opposite sex. Keep your dog having fun, and when you need him to come through for you he’ll do it because, of course(!), playing with you is always the most fun thing in the whole world. “Always” to your dog takes commitment and the larger perspective of a self-aware human’s framework.

If practice makes perfect, why practice with stress? Practice the fun stuff and that’s what you’ll get. Fun!!!