Sunday, April 3, 2016

When A Person and Their Dog Just "Click"

It has been difficult to blog this past year, because my world has been made considerably smaller and there just isn’t that much to share. From the days of wandering across the 250,000 acre ranch gathering cattle, gardening, milking and taking care of all my stock, I now find myself spending the majority of my time sitting in a recliner, a very good day being one where I can make dinner, or get laundry done.

The good news is, that my new medications seem to be working really well on my auto-immune issues and my biggest problem is weakness from the years of limitation the diseases have caused me. I haven’t totally given up hope, but I am also not convinced I will make yet another comeback. I dream about riding again and that is my goal, but it’s far off from where I find myself right now.

The Maremmas are still doing a fabulous job of protecting everything out in the pastures, I just do not see them very often because I cannot always walk that far, and once there, there is no place to rest. I can no longer get up from the ground by myself so it’s a bit dicey to go very far from the house.

Heath, the Sheppie has been my saving grace. He entertains me, keeps me company and makes my heart full…and of course, TheMan, who is the most wonderful husband, keeps me going with his unconditional love, a fantastic reflection of the God we serve.

At any rate, I am going to attempt to find a way to share my life in my tiny, self contained world. Once a master of multi-tasking, I am now terribly excited if I can complete a task without forgetting what I was doing. It’s been an interesting journey to say the least.

If you are looking for inspiration or practical information, you might want to stop reading now, because mostly I will just be sharing my thoughts, until such time as I can once again resume my regular life which is on indefinite pause.

Heath (The Happy Heathen of Shepherd’s Way) recently turned a year old. From the time he arrived as a tiny pup of 8 weeks, we began to engage in clicker training. I’d like to share a few things about this, as a surprisingly small number of people seem to be familiar with it. It involves using treat rewards and a clicker to teach, mark and guide behavior. The biggest thing about it, is that it is FUN for both the human and the dog/cat/horse/dolphin/whatever. It gives the animal a voice, results in tight bonding and an eager, biddable, happy student. There are a plethora of books on the market on how to apply it. For Heath and I, it was an extremely fortunate activity as it allowed me, while being largely incapacitated most of the time, to engage with and offer enough stimulation to satisfy a young, active puppy.

He had already learned to “sit” when he wanted something, as his breeder used manding to teach all the pups, by simply giving a treat every time she saw one sitting down. They quickly learned as a group, that their dinner bowl, etc. would be delivered once they were all sitting. Pretty darn cool. Once home with me, we put the spoken request (or if you must, the command) along with a hand signal for it.

By the time Heath had been here a month, he could sit, lay down, pick up his toys and put them in a basket, high five and a couple of other little things. It began this way:

I bought a clicker and put it on a string around my neck so I would always have it with me. I bought a roll of dog food that I cut a slice of each day and cubed into very small pieces.

Get Heath’s attention, and click/treat about 20 times (loading the clicker-only needs to be done at the first session) so he connects the click with the reward. After doing that a couple of times, overtime he did something I liked or something I asked for, I would click and treat. We would only play this game for about 2 minutes at a time, but we did it several times a day. Heath loved it, it gave him mental exercise enough to make up for the physical exercise we were not getting. He learned quickly to communicate to me that he wanted to play, so we would often do it at his request. To date, he knows more than any dog I have ever owned and more than I can remember to list. It has made him an absolutely devoted partner who is eager to please and makes every effort to comply with my every request. I have never had to correct him for anything, as the very few bad behaviors he tried out, were quickly nipped in the bud by redirecting him into doing something I could reward him for.
ie: barking at and attempting to attack the broom/vacuum

Instead of kenneling him or telling him no, it gave us an opportunity to work on his “sit-stay” which he had learned through the clicker play. He sat and watched as I swept or vacuumed and I clicked and gave him a jackpot of treats when I was finished. It was a totally positive experience and has served us well in a variety of situations while strengthening commands that are important. His “sit-stay” has become so strongly engrained, that when we are out with the chickens, rabbits, or sheep that a young herding dog such as himself would LOVE to run and chase and scatter, I am able to encourage him not to engage in that behavior by simply asking first for a sit-stay, as the critters either gather around him, or rush by. He gets high praise for it, once again, making him a confident, happy and well adjusted dog and makes me a proud and ecstatic handler.

So you can see how this changes the face of the way you probably used to train your dogs. The difference in the dog is obvious, as their personality and exuberance is not diminished, resulting in a robotic automaton, but instead a happy, eager to please partner, who is able to find creative ways to communicate with you his wants and needs, while doing his best to comply with yours.

The other really great thing about it is, it can be used on a dog/animal of any age. Young or old. If you have a pet, give it a try!

P.S. as many folk have expressed an interest in trying this, I'd like to share that I got a pack of Karen Pryor clickers on as well as the book "Clicking With Your Dog" which is a great starter book. There are many others as well, and I would also like to highly recommend any KikoPup u-tube videos. I use RedBarn dogfood rolls (also from Amazon) because I can cut a slice a day into small cubes and it's not greasy so I can stick it in my pocket. Happy clicking! Your dog will love you for it and you will love your dog