Sunday, February 10, 2013

Talking With Dogs

Til shows off some of his prizes from a Frisbee competition.

As I am moving back into my role as teacher, not only through an upcoming Tricks class at Borderhauss Kennels but as a certified CATCH trainer mentor, I'm realizing how much nonverbal actions and consequences go into my daily routines.  My thoughts are constantly on reinforcing behaviors that I like, eliminating ones I don't like.  There are very few random treats I give my dogs.  I am in the mode of thinking that no cookie goes wasted.  I am, in essence, a training machine.

While this might seem kind of sad, it puts communication on a whole new level.  I have had to reassess this, too, because now that I have my first border collie, I realize that I haven't made full use of the wonderful cognitive skills in dogs.  I no longer use the grunts and broken English reminiscent of an old Tarzan movie.  I use full sentences.  "Til, Nikita stole your toy and hid it in her cage.  You can find it in there.  Go get it out and bring it to me."

And he does.

I am talking to the border collie much more than I have to others, and the overflow extends to other dogs around him.

Now in house sitting for my friend Cindy while she's away, and caring for her two dogs, I am back to Square One.  The dogs, a Labrador named Nikita and a spaniel mix named Maggie, are both "amateurs" when it comes to the ever evolving "Bailey Method".  Nikita especially is completely clueless.  She is a big, tan, smiling, good-natured oaf, awkward and pushy in her affections.

I hold up a cookie.  "Sit."  I KNOW she knows this cue.  She just stands there grinning, ears flattened, whipping her tail back and forth.

At this point, I have another revelation that with rescue dogs, and dogs who have been randomly reinforced, it is better not to talk.  Their lives are filled with meaningless noise.  They tune it out.  So I revert back to my old nonverbal ways and simply hold the cookie back over her head.  She sits. I toss the cookie and she clumsily snaps at it.

With Nikita I would be back to Tarzan Talk for a little while, using the barest of verbiage, while she begins to grasp all over again that language really does have meaning, and to listen intently for more complex instructions.  As she got to know me, she would eventually start to pay more attention.

Perhaps even more importantly, I would have to learn how to listen to her.


Anonymous said...

I have my best friend border collie always wanted a frisbee dog .He is so well trained . Cant make him ply frisbee. Help..He want me to chase him . He loves the basketball. Great socker player.

Nancy said...

Hello Anonymous,

You might try one of those soft fabric "floppy" frisbees you can get at the pet supply stores. If you can get him started chasing that, it may be easier to teach him to jump and catch it in the air. You can graduate to harder frisbees later once he gets the idea. To teach the return you just have to offer something in trade, like a tennis ball. Good luck!