Friday, February 2, 2018

☸️ Bodhi and I Learn Something New

A white Labrador Retriever lays on the training floorBodhi and I took our first training session together this past Tuesday. Unlike past classes with our older dogs, this one centers on the use of a clicker, incremental behavioral changes, and lots of positive reinforcement; much of it in the form of tiny treats. Bodhi seemed to like the treats most of all.

I’d brought our last Lab, Zele, as well as our Golden Retriever Stella to a traditional training class at the local kennel club, where they both excelled. Having lost their space at the Fauquier Fair Grounds building, the WKC wasn’t running classes when Bodhi’s turn arrived.

I signed us up for a class at Hungry Like the Woof in Warrenton, instead. They’re located in a relatively new brick building on Alexandria Pike, where they occupy the entire upstairs. It’s quite a comprehensive arrangement: a pet supply shop occupies much of one half of the floor, with a small veterinary practice tucked into an office along one side. The entire other half of the floor is given over to training space. A rubberized floor covering and moveable partitions keep the room comfortable for dogs and owners. A handful of instructors keep the space in use much of the week, and classes repeat in serial fashion.

The first class session was held a week prior, for owners only. It’s a small group; seven owners and two instructors are a full house when dogs are included. We were introduced to the clicker method of training, and each given a clicker to work with. The goals for the first week were simple: get your dog’s attention every time by calling his name, and train your dog to nose a target and/or your hand every time a command word is spoken. These goals center on getting the dog’s attention when there’s a distraction nearby—another dog or human has entered the picture, say—and control needs to be reasserted.

The methodology is simple. Say his name, and when he makes eye contact immediately click and give a small treat. Repeat ten times. These training sessions are kept short, and practiced two or three times a day. By keeping a bowl of training treats with the clicker it’s short work to go through a session in no time.

Three of these a day were enough to significantly raise Bodhi’s attentiveness last week.

This past Tuesday Bodhi joined me for session two. The collection of seven dogs were restless with each other, but quickly settled down. One dog was very anxious, and so a visual barricade was put on either side of the dog and owner to block his view of dogs nearby. It worked; his barking ceased and the owner worked with him easily.

A white Labrador retriever sits while waiting for training to beginWe spent part of the class learning the first steps of “loose leash walking,” otherwise known as heeling. I had Bodhi doing a very good heel in the quiet of our garage in the weeks before this class began, so he already knew to sit at my side when I stopped walking. This class’s method begins with taking a step and stopping, and providing a click and treat as soon as the dog sits. One step at a time we made a few circles in front of our spot.

If we get nothing out of this class beyond a dog that doesn’t pull on his leash, I’ll be thrilled. As well behaved as Maggie, Zele and Stella have been, they’ve always pulled on the lead when out for a walk. Just once I’d like my dog to stroll alongside me, unconcerned with the rest of the population. That’s my goal for this class.

The evening’s other lesson was training our dogs to retreat to a mat or towel laid on the floor. Ours is the small, colorful throw that Bodhi was sleeping on in his kennel. It’s in that photo, above. His command word for it is “place,” and as soon as his paws or body touch it he gets a click and a treat.

Since he already had the hand touch down (“touch”) I alternated between that and “place” to move him back and forth, awarding a click and treat for each successful response. You can see how quickly the right behaviors are reinforced.

My pal did pretty well, although toward the end of our fifty-minute class he was losing interest in clicks and treats. That’s a long session for a seven-month old pup.

I’ll work with Bodhi a couple of times tonight, and another three each tomorrow, Sunday, and Monday. We head back to class Tuesday evening.

Kelly and I were told we had a smart pup when we adopted Bodhi, and that he’s also a sensitive boy. I can see both are true. He’s quickly picking up behaviors we want, but at the same time he’s very aware of having done the wrong thing when he hears a sharp tone of voice attached to his name. Striking the right balance between lots of praise and occasional rebuke (you try not loudly saying ouch when a Labrador Retriever chomps down on your finger while taking a treat) is critical. I don’t want my pal too afraid of making a mistake to enjoy training.

#LabradorRetriever #training #clicker #positiveReinforcement