Touch

Betsy learned a new trick yesterday.

For the longest time, I was obsessed with perfecting the basics with Betsy and refused to move on to any new tricks until her ‘sit’, ‘down’, and ‘come’ were totally distraction proof and totally perfect.

Buuut, after months and months of practicing, she is still not perfect (sad!) and I’m getting a little bored of practicing the same tricks over and over and over and over, and I assume she must be tired of them too.

Don’t get me wrong, she’s pretty good. She will happily do a sit or a down any time, anywhere. I can even get her to do a sit/down when there are dogs at a reasonable distance (although it’s a struggle for us both) But I don’t feel like she’s at the absolute most perfect sit/down ever.

For one thing, she will break it from time to time, if the distractions prove too great.

Also, if she’s distracted sniffing the ground or staring intently at something, she often goes into this weird trance that I can’t break through. Any command given during this time falls on deaf ears. Even waving a treat in front of her nose doesn’t work. I’m really not sure what to do about this, so if you have any suggestions, please leave them in the comments!

And, on top of all this, I’ve barely even started practicing the recall with distractions. I’m too scared of screwing it up, because even withOUT major distractions, her response rate varies. In the house, she’s great; out and about… mm, not so much. 50/50 I’d say.

Ok, so now that I have confessed all my training sins, here is another: We started a new trick.

I did a bit of googling to see what the most useful possible trick to teach next could be, and I settled on touch, for a few reasons:

  • You can use it as alternative to the recall (because it requires her to come to you to complete it)
  • You can use it to teach her the name of people (I can translate it to “go touch Ben”)
  • And things (Hold an item and get her to do her regular ‘touch’ on the item and then teach her things like “Touch the leash” “Touch your toy”)
  • Which could one day lead to “touch the light” – yay, no more getting up to turn off the light!
  • It’s got a ‘fun’ feel to it (I can move my hand around and make her do different ‘touches’, it’s a bit more active & interesting for her than a sit or a down)

Here she is a day after I first started teaching her ‘touch’

I apologize for the low quality! We do a few other tricks because Ben continued to record for longer than I expected 😉 You can see a few things she learned ‘naturally’ (ie I didn’t make a conscious effort to teach her) … “go in your crate” and jumping up on items/running to stand in certain locations when I point to them.

It’s so neat to see how quick she learns. The first few training sessions I didn’t use the word ‘touch’, I just held out my hand with a treat nudged between my fingers. I made sure she understood the concept that touching my hand with her nose = treat from my other hand. It took her a few short sessions last night to get the picture, at first she was super confused and kept offering different behaviours. I felt bad for her and was worried I was doing a poor job of showing her what I wanted.

BUT it’s like she suddenly had a breakthrough – we had two 5 minute difficult sessions, then later I tried another one thinking it would be equally difficult, but she suddenly seemed to ‘have’ it, and she was SO EXCITED!

I quickly moved on to using the word ‘touch’ (adding the word whenever she touched my hand actually seemed to help her learn quicker) and from there began holding my hand in all sorts of positions… she totally had it! Amazing. I couldn’t believe how she went from super frustrated to a pro in under an hour.

We practiced it on our walk this morning and again when I got home from work and… yep. She’s got it. She loves it.

Our technique is probably not competition quality, but it’s good enough for me!

Rewarding calm behaviour

It’s important to us that we have a relaxed dog that isn’t always running around like crazy, jumping on people in greeting, etc. Betsy isn’t there yet. She’s not the most hyper dog I’ve ever met, but she’s pretty excitable around people and other dogs, and is often getting herself into trouble by trying to play with dogs that absolutely do NOT want to play. She doesn’t approach calmly for a sniff – she will happily launch herself right onto a strange dog’s back if I let her, as if obviously they will want to play with her.

Not ok.

She also tends to roam restlessly around the house in the evenings, picking up naughty things to chew on, even though she has plenty of ‘legal’ chew items at her disposal.

She is getting better. We’re quite stern with off whenever she tries to jump on someone, and when she does approach someone calmly, we always make sure to praise her. You can often see her trying to contain herself – she’ll start to jump, then remember she’s not supposed to, and curb herself into melting into someone’s legs instead. It’s so cute to see her try so hard. But sometimes she completely forgets, especially around other dogs, so it’s a work in progress.

One experiment I have started after reading about other people doing it, is randomly rewarding her whenever I catch her in a relaxed state around the house. If I notice her lying on her bed, or quietly chewing her bully stick, I’ll make sure to tell her she’s a good girl, and I’ll often go grab a treat to give her as well.

I have no idea how well this is working but my theory is that it certainly can’t hurt!

We also practice various impulse control exercises, which Betsy is really good at, despite her issues with rude greetings. She has to sit and make eye contact with me before being allowed to approach her food dish. She has to sit calmly in front of me before I clip on her leash. If she’s really eager to get outside/inside, I make her sit and wait until I have taken off/put on my shoes before she’s allowed to go through the door. When she pulls towards something she thinks is super awesome, we turn around and try again until she manages to approach it on a loose leash.

Betsy practicing her impulse control by waiting for my ok before she can have breakfast.

Betsy practicing her impulse control by waiting for my ok before she can have breakfast.

Sometimes it feels impossible, like we’re making zero progress. But I know this must not be the case!

And occasionally, we have a breakthrough. She used to start dragging us whenever the house came into view, so excited to come inside and run around like crazy. After a million “turn around” exercises after each walk, she finally has figured out that she doesn’t get to walk down that final stretch of road until she is walking calmly by my side. And in recent weeks, our turn-arounds have diminished from 10 to maybe 1 or 2.