For some time now I knew I had to do something about it, it couldn’t go on like this anymore. But I was lazy. I was afraid that it will take a lot of work. I was afraid that I have fallen out of favor and could never get the old times back. I was afraid that what I would try wouldn’t work and I would be disappointed. Yes, it was mostly Fear. I don’t actually believe that Laziness exists, but let’s leave that for another conversation.
The problem is that while I have a lot of enthusiasm for training agility-related stuff, I have almost none when it comes to everyday things such as maintaining recalls, not when I see practicing them as hassle. (This is one of the reasons I love the Recallers course – it gets me off my butt!)
Lately my influence over my free ranging canines didn’t feel as strong as it used to be and the other day Ruby was rolling in dirt and – gasp – didn’t come when I called. My recall superstar! Not showing the slightest inclination to move in my direction. (Java’s recall is still awesome, but she is responding less to my informal cues than she used to, which is a warning sign.)
That’s when I came to realization that I really had to do something about this stupid influence thing. (Some people would say it’s a question of relationship and in a sense it is, but relationship consists of more than just influence, do you agree?) I mean why do I need to do this? It should be enough to train recall once and then have it FOREVAH!
Doesn’t seem to work that way, though. Hhhmph.
So I put my problem-solving hat on and thought about what my canines are telling me. Here’s what I concluded:
- The environment is more interesting than I am
- The rewards I offer are not exciting enough
- They are getting more rewards from environment than through me
Thinking specifically of Ruby I asked myself in which situations is he getting more rewards than he used to that are not connected to me?
- When preparing jumps for agility I give him a toy so he can run around the equipment while I’m busy. He gets a lot of joy out of owning that toy and not bringing it back to me. That could be a part of the reason why his retrieve has gone out of the window – he is practicing non-retrieve every time we train agility.
- When we go to doggie parties other people end up throwing toys for my dogs while I’m just standing around (there’s a story behind this that we won’t get into at this time). The lesson is: when there are other people and dogs around don’t look to your momma to play with – because she’s a party pooper.
In which situations has he been getting less rewards from me than he used to?
- I used to reward 90% of recalls by throwing balls, frisbees, cones and such. Since Java usually steals such items from him I’ve been rewarding with food almost all the time. BIG mistake. As an experiment I rewarded a recall with a cone instead of treats and he was following me around for 15 minutes in hope of catching another moment of my sanity.
- There have been a few times when I got frustrated and just clipped the leash on when I didn’t like what he was doing. I used to be VERY careful to balance such acts out with lots of rewarding and fake leash clipping (letting him go after clipping the leash on), but lately I haven’t. After just a few incidents he started avoiding me when he thought I might leash him up. Oops!
- When bringing the ball back he used to be able to predict with 99% certainty that I’m going to throw it for him. But now Java tries to steal the ball (and frequently succeeds!) before he even comes back. Yesterday I was able to verify that he was actually avoiding Java when he was bringing the ball back, not avoiding bringing it to me. Well, unless he wasn’t sure if I was going to throw it for him or for Java. If there is any doubt in his mind whether he is getting his ball back he will avoid me.
Walking both dogs together makes most of recall-building exercises that we used to do impractical, so what I used to do on regular walks I now need to make extra time for. Which wasn’t happening lately. Now it’s time to find a way how to do it. Stay tuned 🙂
Photo credit: Stisnprtisn!