8 months 1 day old
Today, well ahead of schedule, Knightley did his first real 'work' for me!! After the previous two days of amazing success with our retrieve sessions, today we had two more training sessions, again concentrating on retrieve. The first one was working on bring items much further away back to me nicely - in the end we managed about three metres (10 feet), which I was thrilled at. The second session I concentrated on getting him to hold and do short retrieves on as many different items as I thought he could comfortably hold (I'll work on tricky ones later). We put a fair bit of time into getting him to learn how to pick up spoons off the floor. They are obviously quite tricky to pick up, and dogs don't tend to like cold metal, so it's important that they get practice sooner rather than later with it, or they can get a bit of a doggy phobia about picking it up.
Then about half an hour ago when we were about to go to bed, I dropped a small plastic container. I could have just sucked it up and reached down for it, but if I do that more than a couple of times a day I pay for it the next day, or I could have got my reach stick... but Knightley was there.... so I thought I'd give it a go. It was a different situation as previously I had dropped things in front of his eyes so he knew what he was to pick up... but in this case he hadn't seen it drop. I called him over, and had a big chunk of 'roo jerky (a new big favourite) ready to reward him if successful. I also flipped the container over with my foot, as it was upside down and would have been very hard for Knightley to get in that position. I nudged it a couple of times with my foot and looked right at it (not at him at all), and told him "get it!". I was grinning from ear to ear as he reached down, picked it up delicately, turned around and placed it in my hand... then waited for my "thank you!" cue to tell him to release it. It all worked perfectly!! What an AWESOME puppy!!!! He enjoyed his lovely roo jerky for a job well done.
So there is lots more work to do, but we have the beginning of an assistance retrieve. Thank you Sue Ailsby!!! I have to say, her recent books with the updated Training Levels are perfect for those training their own assistance/service dogs. (Link to her main page on the link toolbar, also Training Levels tab at the top of the page, info & links from there too). Especially the retrieve. I followed it closely, and it has come up trumps. It was easier than I thought it would be too. 'Traditional' obedience trainers train retrieves in all sorts of horrible ways (forcing dogs to open their mouths by harshly pinching their ears, or by using electrical collars and shocking the dog if they don't get what they want). Some trainers don't believe that you can train a reliable retrieve by a positive reinforcement. There are many many thousands of working dogs out there with a positive trained reliable retrieve. If it wasn't reliable then they couldn't be trusted to be the helper of some very disabled people. I have no doubt, from what I have seen, that Knightley's retrieve is going to be completely solid. He really enjoys it, as there has been pleasure in every part of the teaching - just asking him to put his mouth around something has good associations.
That is what I love about operant conditioning, how the learning process itself deepens the bond you have with your dog. The time you spend training is pleasant and stimulating for the dog. When I stop my retrieve training, Knightley will grab a toy and nudge my leg with his nose almost in protest that training stopped too soon! That just doesn't happen with traditional methods. I love having a thinking dog, and I've really been enjoying the last week of training. The beginning of Level 3 was really boring, but this was awesome fun!! I will continue to work on the retrieve, but I have also started to teach Knightley another assistance skill..... although this isn't one I strictly need, but I'd be nice to have anyway! It'll be interesting training it, definitely a good challenge. I'll tell you more about it later once I have got somewhere with it, that was really just to tease you!
My husband is still away in England, he's been away for 16 days now although it doesn't really feel like that long. He's going to be home in 8 days time, and it really will be lovely to have him back. Knightley isn't going to be happy though, he's going to lose his spot on my bed!!
Oz Working Dogs - Assistance & Working Dog Equipment
For assistance/service dog equipment, as well as guide, therapy, detection, search & rescue, police and dogs in training equipment check out my website http://www.ozworkingdogs.com.au - I make and sell vests, capes, belly bands, harnesses, handles and more... and will post to the world!