I am feeling a lot better today. I got up this morning, despite a rather short sleep, feeling more or less rested. The sun was out, and it was cool. It still is cool. In fact it’s supposed to go down to just 8C tonight. The cool, clear air definitely perked me up. For some reason it appears that I am feeling the heat this summer. The humidity isn’t helping either.
But the real reason I think I was feeling so low yesterday is that I haven’t had any interaction with another person in days! I didn’t realize this until my agility lesson this morning. Social interaction really perked me up. I live quite an isolate life right now, seeing as I am an hour from town and not working. The only people I talk with are those I buy food from. That makes for good discussion, but it rarely lasts more than a few minutes. Then I’m back on my own again.
Because I am so busy with work, I have not been feeling lonely. But apparently at some level I still am. Spending an hour with my agility instructor this morning made it clear that I need to factor in some social time! This will be tough because I could easily work 12-14 hours a day at my computer right now, but that is quickly becoming counterproductive. Tomorrow I am driving into town to have lunch with a good friend.
I started my lesson by telling my instructor that I’ve been in a training funk, and a funk in general, for the last several days. She spent the next 45 minutes problems solving with me. We didn’t even get Hannah out of her crate until I only had 10 minutes left of the lesson! But it was a very good session. I discussed my frustrations with Hannah, and she theorized ways I could fix them. We talked about learning theory, and how to reduce latency (the time gap between when you ask a dog to do something, and when the dog actually does it – my biggest challenge with Hannah).
In part I need to get on top of Hannah in areas other than training. As I mentioned yesterday, she’s likely to blow me off for several seconds – or longer – when I call her to me. She often acts like she thinks rules don’t apply to her. While this may not be a big deal around the house, it sure is a problem when working stock. To fix this, I need to let her know this is not acceptable. This means withholding reward if she isn’t fast enough: you pick a time line, say 3 seconds, count to three and if the dog hasn’t listened then it doesn’t get rewarded, even if it does what you asked on the 4th second. When what she is doing is self-rewarding – for example, sniffing about the garden – you take that away from her. I’m to walk over, slip a leash around her neck, and march her into the house. Better yet, put her straight into a crate. Positive, my instructor reminded me, is not permissive.
On sheep this is going to be trickier, but it should work. This winter I put pace back on Hannah by simply calling her off sheep when she wouldn’t listen when I asked her to slow down. I will need to go back to that. It only took a couple of times for her to smarten up and pay attention. The difference was so dramatic that it was clear to me that she really was blowing me off. Brat.
Regarding whistles, my instructor insisted that I need to keep pairing voice and whistle commands (whistle first, followed by voice) to really solidify her cues. I find that Hannah just tunes out the new cue, but my instructor suggested trying to do this away from sheep. Like on a basket ball. Sounds ridiculous, I know, but Hannah will actually flank around a basket ball. Perhaps I can get her to listen to my whistles this way. Certainly I can’t see how it could hurt. I’ll likely give this a try this evening.
I was also given a list of recommended books on learning theory, which I am going to start reading. I also need to watch the new Derek Scrimgeour DVD that a good friend sent me a few weeks ago. The more new ideas I have, the better able I will be to fix the problems we are facing in training right now. The biggest right now, however, is my morale!
I am interested in learning more about learning theory, but I have to say I have some trepidation around the extreme worship of Behaviourism that I see in the dog training world. While training methods based on behaviourist beliefs work on both dogs and humans, this school has been largely rejected as a comprehensive way of explaining, understanding and predicting human behaviour. I would argue the same is true for dogs. I am currently reading The Culture Clash, wherein author Jean Donaldson offers two understandings of dogs: 1) that they are like little humans, and think and behave like we do; and 2) they are a black box that respond to stimulus with behaviour. Donaldson tells us to face up to reality: the black box model is the correct one.
In my opinion dogs lie somewhere in between, likely a lot closer to the human end of the spectrum than most people would like to accept. They are smart, and they don’t necessarily have to be taught like machines. The step by step methods presented in most dog training books are not necessarily needed because that’s the only way dogs learn, but rather because that’s the most straight forward way for us to communicate what we want. But a dog like Hannah can extrapolate very, very quickly. In part some of her issues I am sure come from being bored as she waits for me to figure things out and learn the next step to teach her. We discussed this as well, and ways I can liven things up. Apparently even doing something simple like throwing toys around that she must ignore will heighten focus and thus attention and response.
We didn’t get around to working with Kess as the next student was already waiting by the end of our lesson. I’m going to do some work with her this evening here at home. And with the others. The little bit of brain work I did with them the other night made them so happy I couldn’t believe it. I need to do this kind of training more often. Oh how I wish there were more hours in the day! Or less work to be done during them. I am going to try really, really hard to take one day off this week – Sunday – because I am definitely burning out. And I’ve only just begun the crazy year I have ahead of me.