Today we stayed home. I needed the down time for continued skin healing. I decided to do something different with Thane. There are some tasks that we are way behind where I was with Met based on age. Its OK- I've had other priorities as I train, not to mention this time around I started out with problems that I did not have when I first began training Met.
I have wanted to train Thane to put items in a basket. Though we started trying to train this in the late fall, the concept just was not there for Thane. I got a bit frustrated with myself for not knowing how to approach it differently for him. With Met, it was easy. I just sat over his toy basket with a toy. It did not take long for him to grasp that what got the reward was dropping the item in the basket.
For Thane, toys can be a hindrance in training. During my period of grief following Met's passing, I spent a lot of hours teaching Thane to play and eventually turning his play into obsession unfortunately. Though there are strategies to lessen this drive with his balls especially, I've realized that perhaps the better approach for Thane is to teach him to drop items into the basket that will be common place with this particular task once he gets the concept.
Today, I pulled out the small hand basket I have along with a small wash cloth. I gave Thane the opportunity to see what would get the reward initially. With no click and treat for retrieves, Thane seemed rather perplexed. He tried laying down with the washie- no dice. He tried laying on top of the washie- no dice. He tried sitting proudly with the washie- no dice. Then by accident it dropped into the basket- click and mega jackpot! He tried a few other behaviors that again produced no dice. At this point it seemed the light bulb had gone off- he dropped the washie into the basket- click and jackpot!
Though I realized it could confuse him, I started asking for the washie. He would retrieve it for a click and treat at which point I would drop it on the floor. Once retrieved I would either say thank you or tell him, I don't need that, could you put it in the basket? The initial attempts were accidental I am sure when it landed in the basket, but by the time we ended our session, it was very clear that he was understanding exactly what I was saying and wanting.
There are those who train dogs who believe we need to keep our commands short and precise. I used to be one of those. I have learned a lot through Thane, however, which leads me to believe that he understands what I want so much clearer when I talk to him as though he truly understands what I am saying- giving him normal sentence structure not just that word or two.
When I was attempting this training in the fall, I was using simple one or two word commands- commands that he knows and yet we got very little success. Some would argue that time, my own technique, or any number of things were the reason why progress is being made on this presently- not the fact that I am communicating more clearly with him.
Thane is a very intelligent dog. I have known that from the start. I also know in many ways he may not come off as the smartest apple because of the way in which he learns- a way much differently from his predecessor. This has made me have to really grope for new approaches in which to teach / train. There've been times when I just wanted to throw up my hands and declare myself a failure at reaching him- figuring out how he best learns.
Some dogs are very clicker savvy- they offer numerous types of behaviors until they get the rewards they are after. Other dogs don't make the greatest shapers for behaviors- dogs like Thane where multiple approaches in tandem can bring about the desired outcome.
Today was a demonstration of just this- clicker matched with full communication resulting in a glimpse of understanding from Thane. I am encouraged by what I am seeing. Die-hard clicker trainers may look at what I do and say its just not right. That's OK with me though because those die-hard clicker trainers are not living in my shoes. I have found a way in which Thane really excels and by golly, all that truly matters are the results- the skills that can and do come out of the way in which I train him.