On Sunday we had a visit from a Basenji named Mina. I couldn’t resist the opportunity of working with a different dog — and an unusual breed of dog — which also afforded me the chance to work on Barnum’s self-control in a novel situation: focusing on me and holding stays when another dog was getting trained inside his house. Despite that I was really too sick — I have been paying the price since — it was an educational experience for all of us, I think. (Mostly for me!)
Mina very helpfully let me know our starting place should be Four-on-the-Floor. (I’ve noticed that enthusiastic, food-driven dogs, especially small- or medium-sized dogs, tend to jump up with their paws on my lap because I’m sitting instead of standing.)
I started with ignoring her when she was on my lap and clicking/treating when her paws were all on the ground. A couple of times I lured her to get her paws off. I c/t Barnum for staying on his mat and not nosing into my session with Mina. He has a lifetime of clicker experience, whereas Mina was learning the clicker and everything else in a new environment — a big challenge. Barnum had a pretty clear idea of what was being asked of him or of behaviors to try to get treats, whereas Mina was really excited that she was getting all these treats without a clear idea of why at first. I bet she slept well that night!
But positive reinforcement works even before the learner has comprehended the “why,” so we were able to quickly move to having all her feet on the ground even before she’d figured out the clicker.
Hint: I’m not used to working with little dogs! I’m used to working with a dog for whom my lap is nose height!
Also, see how she’s pawing at my hand, above? That was interesting for me. I’ve taught a few dogs the beginning steps of Zen, and she was the first who tried lots of different strategies — biting, pawing, licking, etc., before finally backing off at all. Very smart and persistent. She’s a problem-solver. Using her paws like that reminded me of a cat.
But this position (above) was not sustainable for me, physically, so I adjusted. . . .
Below is another behavior I’m not used to! Mina decided she’d had enough training and just hopped right onto my powerchair seat. I laughed really hard. A large, more cautious dog like Barnum learned to jump and sit in my powerchair after several shaping sessions. It took a lot of careful balancing for him. Meanwhile, Mina, the little, bold, curious, and nimble thing, just nipped up there herself as if she’d been doing it all her life. She wanted to see what she could see, I think. Or she was pretending to be a spaceship captain. Or both?
What a way to start the new year!
– Sharon and Barnum, SD
P.S. Mina was gracious enough to let me back onto my chair once she’d finished training me to give her treats.