There’s been a lot going on with Mr. Barnum, but since I revealed that I am considering washing him out, I’ve become afraid to post about it!
If training is going well, and I have my hopes up, I’m worried about getting your hopes up, too! If training is going badly, I don’t want you all to think, “Oh, well then, there’s the proof that he’s not gonna make it.” Because really, there are always up days and down days, with any dog (or other being) — with any learning venture, there are peaks and plateaus. Yet, I’m so aware now that others are aware of the stakes.
It’s weird. I really love knowing so many people are supportive and pulling for us, and yet now I feel an obligation to my readers, too. Barnum and I are already dealing with the weight of my own — and my friends’ and family’s — expectations; I don’t want any more on us!
It’s not that anyone’s done anything wrong. On the contrary, I have been quite touched by the love and outpouring of support when I started posting the “Washout?” series.
I’ve never liked nebulousness and ambiguity. I’ve always been very goal-oriented, driven, motivated. I like a plan. I scheme and chart and make lists of what I’m going to do. (You all saw this past week what happens when I get focused on a goal. I’m very focused.)
Not that I’m not able to adjust in the moment; I am. It’s the creative aspect of clicker training — when I just click for something because it feels right, and then after I click, I realize why I did it — that’s one of the best parts.
In fact, when I read this sentence in Karen Pryor’s Don’t Shoot the Dog! — about “the shaping game,” where one person plays the trainer, and one plays the animal, trying to get the “animal” to do a certain behavior with just well-timed clicks or whistles, I thought, “Aha. This is why clicker training comes so naturally to me.”
In my experience intuitive, creative, intensely emotional people make great shapers, and calm, observant people make great animals — just the opposite of what you might expect.
“Intuitive, creative, intensely emotional,” sums me up pretty well! (Not that that’s all I am, but it’s a big chunk.)
Anynoodle, with that in mind, I’d say that so far, “Operation Lose It or Move It” — as I’ve been thinking of The Barnum Experience, ever since Sue said, “Whack those suckers off!” — has been going pretty well. (I am hoping I don’t have to explain the double entendre there.)
I’m not sure how much of the progress really has to do with the neutering per se. I thought it would be too soon to tell, hormonally or biologically, until at least two months. However, it has seemed to me as if Barnum has overall been more interested in food since the surgery. He is certainly now working hard for treats that he used to consider “low value”!
I think there are a few factors that have made him, overall, much more interested in training:
- Having an enforced two weeks of no free running, and lots of very short on-leash walks, right after the surgery, has helped the elimination on leash a great deal, as well as focus and loose-leash walk (LLW).
- As I wrote in an earlier post, I combined intensive focus/eye contact work with evaluating how other people were walking him, which has led to actual loose-leashness on most outings with him, although they are not really so much “walks,” as he doesn’t get to go far yet. Still, tremendous progress there. That’s definitely primarily a training issue, not a hormonal one.
- However, he is also eagerly taking treats on these walks, something that was very rare before. He will even take hot dogs, which he considers lower value than cheese. The fact that he wants to earn treats on walks has accelerated the LLW training.
- After keeping him on leash for all elimination went so well right after his surgery, I have continued to make sure every time he goes out, it’s on leash. The exception is if it’s raining and there’s nobody else to take him out (powerchairs don’t do well in rain). He is now urinating the second we get to the gravel, and I think he “knows” that cue, when he’s on the gravel. I’m positive if I said, “Hurry up,” to him in a strange location, it wouldn’t register at all. He is also now pooping on leash most of the time, though he does still prefer his privacy. (Is that a bouv thing, or are all dogs like this? All my bouvs have been privacy poopers, but I don’t remember that being the case with our BC mix.)
- He spent the past week with very little training, very little attention, very little mental stimulation — and he has been clamoring to train. I tried to squeeze in a session once or twice a day, if I could. Usually some retrieve training right before bed, but for the most part, he has had a taste of the easy life, and he doesn’t like it! (Yeehaw!)
- During his week of auction-induced boredom, he tried on several occasions to induce me to train. The most humorous one is when he goes into my bathroom and shuts the door: “See? Look! I can shut the door! Cool, eh? Click me!” The problem is that he is then inside the bathroom, with the door shut, and I’m in bed. That’s what you get when the dog has learned the behavior but it isn’t yet under stimulus control.
- The most exciting moment for me (well, there have been a couple, but this was the first), was about a week ago. We were working on the corner cupboard in the kitchen, which is a very tricky door to shut, as it’s hinged in the middle, and I was ready to release him, even though he hadn’t managed to shut it, because I could tell he was getting mentally fatigued and frustrated. I tried to end the session, but he wanted to keep going! And it wasn’t the treats, because these were not fantastic treats which he snorked down somewhat distractedly. No, it was the puzzle. He really wanted to figure out how to get that cabinet shut and to shut it, dammit! I’ve never seen that in him before. I didn’t know if he had it in him, but now I think he might.
- Another first this week was that one of my helpers was able to take Barnum for a walk around the pond, which both she and Gadget used to love. She had not been able to do it with Barnum, however, because when we tried it, he . . .
- pulled on leash,
- didn’t come when called,
- could not be relied upon to get in the van when it was time to leave,
- was overly boisterous with other dogs he met there, and
- was overly suspicious of people he met there (if they didn’t have dogs).
When they got home after their outing last week, my helper said that Barnum was great, that “it was just like taking Gadget!” Whoah! High praise! (She didn’t used to like dogs, and was somewhat afraid of them, but Gadget converted her. After the first few weeks of baby Barnum, it seemed as if he was restoring her original opinion of dogs. Could Barnum now be on the brink of redeeming himself?)
- Barnum’s “zen” has also suddenly gotten worse, which is a good sign, actually. He was ridiculously easy to train in zen (“Leave it”) because food was not that exciting to him. Now he has to think about it more — how badly do I want that morsel? I’m perfectly happy to rework our zen in exchange for a food-driven dog!
- We have done more practice in the van — first just with us sitting in the driveway, and then short trips where all we did was practice getting in and out of the van in controlled ways.
So, that’s a bit of the post-surgical update on Mr. B. There is still a lot of evaluation and testing to do, a lot more training. I do think the neutering has had an effect, but I also think my change in strategy in some key areas has set us up to succeed more often.
The big test will be to see what happens when we got into strange or distracting environments, and if he is still interested in food then or not. Particularly because I’ve been working focus in very low-distraction/below-threshold environments and working up, I’m not sure what will happen when we are in the midst of some excitement.
I’ll continue to keep you posted. I am still reserving judgement, but the prognosis now is more guardedly optimistic than before. We’ll just have to see what happens, now that the balls are no longer in his court.
– Sharon, the muse of Gadget (How dare they compare him to moi?), and Barnum, hungry(!) SDiT?
P.S. One of the After Gadget Jackpot winners has been determined. Pop on over to this new post at aftergadget.com to find out who it is, AND to read my new, simplified instructions for those of you were overwhelmed and flummoxed by the last ones. (Sorry!)