Friday, February 6, 2009

Wait For It

I am currently teaching two greyhound clicker training classes. About three or four times a year, I offer a basic obedience class for greyhounds using the clicker.

One of the things I have noticed is that handlers are sometimes desperate for their greyhound's attention. Class is a distracting environment. The dogs are pulled in all directions by the attractive treats, the other dogs, and the sound of clickers.

This time, there is one hound in particular that is very stressed, but she is working really well for short bursts despite her anxiety. She can be very frustrating to work with because she is either jumping on her handler or pulling away from him and putting 55 pounds of pressure on the leash. The handler tries to get her attention by repeating her name and pulling her back.

I experience something similar with Riley at times, especially at PetsMart. The squeaks, chirps, and small animals smells are almost too much for her to handle. It is stressful for Riley to not be able to get to what she is hearing and smelling.

When Riley has switched to high prey mode, I know that her training has taken a giant leap backwards. Instead of asking her to do things she may fail to respond to (such as her name), I simply wait for her to come back to earth. I let her look, listen, and smell from one location (I do not let her lead me around the store). Since she is not given access to the animals or the toys in the store, the looking, listening, and smelling behavior never leads her to a reinforcement.

Eventually, Riley starts to realize that her action is not working for her and she may turn to look at me... click and treat. She makes eye contact again... click and treat. She might offer another behavior, a down perhaps. Click and treat. Now she is listening and I can start to make requests.

I much prefer to allow Riley to exhaust her curiosity and then "choose" to see what I have to offer. Some trainers teach a "watch me" command. I have never done this with my greyhounds nor have I felt the need to. I find that eventually they become quite attentive and just eventually keep their eyes on me without being asked.

I think a similar strategy would work for the greyhound in my class. Just wait for it. Let it be her idea. I am eager to see how she and her handler progress over the weeks.