Training Tuesdays: Tracking around corners and heeling in the front yard

German Shepherd puppy wearing a graduation cap and looking at camera

Last week I strengthened my resolve to treat Milo like the smart and accomplished fellow that he is, which is a challenge because he will always be my fuzzy-pants, darling baby.

But, I managed to set the bar high and he leaped right over it (mostly).

Tracking. I worked him on tracks that were about 200-paces long with two corners and two articles. Milo the AwesomeDog earned his name on the corners–he corners like he’s on rails! I was so proud of him.

We stumbled a little bit over rewards on the track though. I drop kibble on the track every 5 to 10 steps. On the 10-step intervals, Milo tended to swerve off the track and sniff around. I suspect he was concerned that he missed a piece of kibble–his combination of intelligence and gluttony led to an occasional screwball performance.

When he did this I stood still and let him work. He always got back on track. I contemplated correcting him because we have a ‘no personal sniffing’ rule, which he might have been breaking. But I held off to give him a chance to figure this out on his own.  Milo takes joy in sniffing. I want to be the person who helps him flourish as a sniffer, not the person who scolds him for sniffing poorly.

german shepherd dog on a brown lawn walking around a corner with his nose on the ground

My friend Jess caught this pic of Milo on a corner.
I’m at the other end of that yellow leash.


Focused heeling. Why should Milo’s middle name be Heisenberg? Because by observing him in heel position I knock him out of heel position. Hahahahahaha.

Ok, so the joke isn’t funny. And gets the quantum mechanics wrong. Everyone’s a critic. Whatever.

Here’s the deal. In the house, Milo sits in perfect heel position. Anywhere else he sits about six inches too far away and at a weird angle, and he tends to glance away at butterflies and buzzing bees. In those distracting situations, I have to pay close attention and reward him like crazy when he gets it exactly right.

But, for me to know if he is getting it exactly right I have to look at him. And when I twist my body so that I can see him, I push him out of position. By observing him, I move him out of the position I want to observe him in. (You’re welcome. Jokes are always so much funnier when you explain them.)

Luckily I’m resourceful enough to work around the AwesomeDog Uncertainty Principle (eat your heart out quantum mechanics). I bought a few big cheap mirrors that I can use to observe Milo without compromising my own position. By leaning a mirror against my house, another against a tree, and a third against my car, I can observe Milo and reward him when he’s got it exactly right. Yes, it looks bizarre, but Milo is doing really well and that’s what matters.

Just a quick update on our two other goals. We’ve been attending Rally class, which is fine, and working on Milo’s attitude toward nail trims, which is still going slowly. I’ll have more to say about these projects in later posts.

Our goals for this week are simple: more of the same.

Cheers!

Training Tuesdays: April 24, 2018, Milo needs a challenge

Hi fans! This is a short post because it’s grading season, and I’m up to my eyebrows with student work from my Philosophy 271: Animals in our Lives and Philosophy 458/673: Feminism, Bodies and Biology classes. I had the pleasure of working with two groups of fabulous students and so the grading is not that bad. But, holy smokes, is there ever a lot of it.

I had an epiphany this week—I’ve been treating Milo like a baby and he’s bored. I was so focused on splitting his training tasks into tiny pieces that I was slowing him down and frustrating him.

I had this epiphany because my friend Liz said, “Carla, you need to give him more difficult things to do.” Does it count as an epiphany if someone straight out tells you something? Probably not technically, but this week had an ‘epiphany-feel’ about it.

After that fateful conversation with Liz, I gave Milo long tracks with multiple articles—he did a great job. No more waiting for him to find an exact heel position. I simply demanded it and he stepped right up and met my higher expectations. And in Rally class, which we just started, I demanded serious attention, which he gave me.

Note to self: “Do what Liz says more often.”

So, this week the plan is to do more of those things: long tracks, precision in heeling, and focused attention even in a distracting Rally class. I am feeling hopeful.

You might remember that I’ve also been working on getting Milo to tolerate a manicure. In the last couple of weeks I’ve come to see that Milo deeply despises have his nails trimmed. So, I’m keeping us on a baby steps schedule for this counter-conditioning procedure–tiny steps and lots of hotdogs.

Next week I’ll fill you in on our progress. Cheers!

Black and tan German Shepherd sniffing brown grass

Milo has what you call a “deep nose” when he tracks and that is a good thing.


 

Training Tuesdays

On the Road with Milo documents my sometimes-literal journey to understand how people and dogs can live well together. I’m learning from philosophical and scientific research on human-canine relationships; expert dog trainers, breeders, and handlers; and my own relationship with Milo the AwesomeDog.

Milo and I are companions. We train and compete in obedience and some dog sports. And we spend as much of our summers as we can camping in Canada’s national and provincial parks. My posts on this blog range from critiques of scientific papers to reviews of campgrounds, but in one way or another, they’re all about the relationship that Milo and I share, and hence about the relationship between humans and dogs.

Training is all about relationship—attention, communication, friendship, and teamwork. This spring and summer, my goal is to train with Milo more systematically. To document our progress, hold myself accountable, and regularly remind myself that the point of the training is to develop my relationship with Milo, I’ll post weekly updates about what I’m planning and how we’re doing. These will be my “Training Tuesdays” posts.

On Training Tuesdays, I’ll report what we did during the previous week, plan what we’ll do the next week, and muse about things that went well or poorly.

German Shepherd puppy wearing a graduation cap and looking at cameraMilo’s puppy kindergarten graduation photo


 

This week’s plan

I’ve already decided that this summer we’ll work on Rally Obedience, and train for Schutzhund obedience and tracking titles. I’m adding a “Living well” category for things Milo and I can learn that will make our lives easier and more fun. This could include tricks, house manners, and things like handing for grooming and veterinary procedures.

Rally

  • Nothing formal yet
  • We’ll just practice a sign or two on our walks

Tracking

  • Article indication off the track (2 minutes a day)

Obedience

  • Between 2 and 15 steps of focused heeling with giant rewards (5 minutes a day)

Living well

  • Paw handling with very high reward rates (2 minutes a day)

Glossary

Article indication. Milo and I will be doing Schutzhund-style tracking. In these tests, he needs to tell me when he finds articles dropped along the track by laying down with his front paws on either side of an article. I’ll teach him this in the living room. When he’s got it, we’ll take it outdoors onto a track.

Paw handling. Milo does not like getting his nails trimmed. I can wrestle him through a manicure, but I would rather not. It stresses us both out and is detrimental to our relationship. So, we’ll do some counter-conditioning to teach him that it is a good thing when I grind down his nails. All I’m going to do this week is call him to his paw trimming spot and ask him to give me a paw (he already is happy to do these two things). Then, I’ll hold his paw in the same way I would when grinding down his nails and give him a treat. That’s all. Easy-peasy. The trick is yummy treats and tiny little baby steps.