Friday, December 7, 2007

Intro to Basic Manners

Last night I attended the "dry-run" intro class to the NEW Basic Manners at the shelter. Before the opportunity to assist Katrin with the ABC Foundation class on Thursday nights arose, I intended to try and stick it out at the shelter with Denise. Denise has been a terrific mentor to me.

The Foundation class opportunity was much too good to pass up, and I gave the shelter my notice. However, I told Denise I would be happy to be a test subject (with Carmen) until the ABC Foundation class begins, as she attempts to work out the kinks of teaching the new program. It is an 8 week class, I think Carmen and I will be available for 4 additional weeks.

For those of you who don't know Carmen, she is my in-law's 5 1/2 yo Miniature Schnauzer. She is Salt and Pepper with striking dark markings on her face. The breeder had kept her with the intention of showing her, but she grew a half-inch too tall and lacked the appropriate personality. Carmen is a little nastier than Ike and also somewhat fearful. She is the opposite of Ike in that she is more dog reactive than people reactive, in general. She's also SO much faster than Ike. She likes to run, just to run.

I thought using Carmen as a test subject at the shelter would be a great opportunity to brush up on her minimal obedience skills in prep for the ABC Foundation class (previously, she did basic manners at the Dedham-ARL and Agility-for-Fun at the Metro South MSPCA).

So, last night Denise did a rough run through what will be her introduction. The skills Carmen and I will work on this week for homework are: Attention, Sit, Shaping the down, and Come.

Denise demo'd how we are to train these behaviors and gave plenty of time to ask questions. We were sent home with two double-sided sheets. Gulp. I think if I were not an experienced dog person I would be incredibly overwhelmed.

Attention: Similar to how Katrin trains it, or as I call it, the "Be a Tree" method. Two treats in either hand making a "T" with your body. The second the dog stops paying attention to the treats and makes eye contact - click and treat. The shelter wants you to shape it, initially for any head movement towards you. We will see how tough Carmen thinks this is and take it from there.

Sit: Lure the sit - typical method. Do not use the cue until the dog is in the act of sitting. The shelter wants the dog to associate the "act of sitting" with the actual cue. Okay. The only difference is 3 out of every 4 sits you do with your dog should be on the left side in the "Finish" or "Place" position. This will be new for Carmen. It only took me a few days to teach Ike to sit on my left after years of sitting in front of me, I expect it will be the same for Ms. Carmen.

Down: Baby steps. Take the treat (when the dog is in the sit) and lower it beneath the dog's chin. Click and treat for dog looking down. Take the treat below their chin again and raise the criteria slightly and click and treat for down movement, etc. Okay. Carmen doesn't have a solid down so this will be more fun for us. I can really see how she takes to the concept of shaping. Her brain is definitely wired differently than Ike. I think she will offer more behaviors than he did when I first started asking him to think for himself.

Come: The shelter's new program is big on the "lifeline" as they call it - a 30-foot lead. Take your dog out in your backyard and let them have the length of the lead. Once they are involved in sniffing, etc., call their name and start running backward. As soon as the dog commits to running to you yell "come." Treat when they reach you. The new program's criteria for a "come" is a straight line to you, the handler, as fast as possible.

I think this will be a great experience for me and Carmen. However, considering that most of the shelter's students are only there because they are required to take a positive manners class by their adoption, I highly doubt it will be a positive experience for them! If I were not so dog savvy and into dogs, I think I would find this class overwhelming. I think it puts too much of pressure on the inexperienced owners and I don't think they are going to pick up the responsibility and run with it. Hopefully I will be wrong though!

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