Saturday, December 03, 2005

Day 135

This time of year the number of lessons really drops way off, even those scheduled for on Saturdays. Nevertheless, there was a big leap forward today where Sanity's working with me is concerned.

My dog, the dog who walks by my side all day long traditionally has always had a very long list of jobs. That dog has to be able to switch gears very fast and fairly often without missing a beat. Acting as my demo dog is just one of those jobs.

Today there was this student who just couldn't seem to get her dog to hold a sit/stay while she walked all the way around it and back to heel position. Now there really was a good reason for this problem. She was inadvertently teaching her dog to do an active sit rather than a passive sit.

(Aside: An active sit calls for the dog to physically hold the sit posture while at the same time turning so as to always face the trainer. A passive sit calls for the dog to physically hold the sit posture and not move, change facing direction or attempt to face the trainer.)

I have been working with Sanity on both types of sit, off and on, for about a month now. This was the first time I had ever tried to use her to demonstrate what was going wrong, how to fix it and how to do it correctly to begin with. As I set up to do the demo, I made the comment that I didn't know how it would work out since I had never ask Sanity to do this sort of thing before and when a dog doesn't know what to expect it can feel it is being treated unfairly.

What happens is that I have to tell my dog to do one thing, signal something else and then guide them into doing a third thing. Very confusing for the dog, to say the least. Most dogs hate it and usually end up with a very bad attitude when put in the position more than once or twice. The really good dogs catch on quickly to the fact that this is not "for real" and that you are just acting. They figure out what is needed, based on prior training, and go along with the program. After a time, the entire thing becomes seamless and people watching have no idea just what went into teaching the dog how to do their part.

But I digress. The whole point was to say that wonder of wonders, I set it up and it worked. I gave the sit/stay command and started around her. When I reached that critical dog's left hip position, I ever so carefully began to pressure her to break the stay and start the turn to face me. When she did begin to follow the pressure I did the same thing the student had been doing with her dog. This meant that Sanity ended up turning in a full circle and of course broke the stay part of the exercise.

Next I set it up again and this time when I started the pressure that caused her to start to get up and turn, I "corrected" her back to the original position. Now comes the best part. As I started the "correction" I could feel her start to stiffen in what I think of as outrage over unfair treatment. And then, and then she all of a sudden lightened up and just flowed with the picture I had in my mind. It felt so good to had a partner down there.

Diane, my teaching assistant said it was really amazing to watch. She said she saw Sanity grow up almost instantly. That she had a sort of sulky puppy look about her and then all of a sudden the look in her eyes changed, the expression on her face changed and she started watching me very closely. The puppy was gone and in its place was a young adult dog with a job to do and she what that job was.

We both started babbling at each other while at the same time I was telling Sanity just how pleased I was to have her as a partner. Meanwhile, the student who was watching the entire thing didn't have a clue as to why we were all so pleased and excited about "just a sit/stay".

Later in the afternoon, just to remind me of her true age, Sanity went back to puppy mode and chewed the back off of one of my shoes. Didn't do a thing to dim the glow of that special morning moment. She is on her way. Oh yes, she is on her way.

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