It’s hard to believe Rocket is now 4 months old, and he has learned a lot in two months. We have had a busy July, starting out by traveling up north for the 4th, where he attended a parade and enjoyed meeting several people. I was a bit concerned about how he’d react to the loud air horns on the trucks in the parade, but he wasn’t phased by it at all and did a fantastic job of keeping focused on me. He also met our new grandson and decided that he most definitely loves babies!
I am hearing a lot of comments from people about how well behaved he is for being only four months old. I usually tell them that it is a good illustration of what consistency will do. With our own dog, Risa, I did take her to some obedience classes, but to be honest, I was kind of lackadaisical about practicing the skills with her, and it shows. With Rocket, however, because I have homework sheets to fill out and am held accountable, we’ve missed very few days of training. The most compelling reason, however, to keep up a consistent schedule of training is the realization that someone else is going to depend on my doing a good job. And when things aren’t going super well, I get a little worried that I’m going to do something wrong and “ruin” him. So it was good to be reminded in class a couple of weeks ago that the training process doesn’t always go forward in a nice linear fashion, that it’s perfectly okay to back up a step if he’s having trouble with something, and that he doesn’t have to be at the same level on everything as every other puppy in class because they often learn different things at different rates.
Here’s a list of the skills we’re working on this week and how he’s progressing:
THINGS GOING WELL:
Watch/Eye Contact: When we’re out in public, once he settles down he will often sit and just stare at me and people say, “Look at how he watches you!” Since I work at home and he is in the office with me for part of every day, he will often plant himself by my side and just stare, as if to say, “See how I can watch? Where’s my treat?”
Long Down: We practice this at night, usually when I’m watching the news. He is put on his side and is expected to stay there until told to “Release.” I can take my hands away from him and sometimes sit up on the sofa next to him for a couple of minutes, but sometimes I need to put my hands back on to remind him to stay there. I can feel him relax right away when I put him in this position, so he seems to understand what this is about. We’re up to doing this for 10 minutes at a time now.
Shaping/Wearing Gentle Leader: He loves to put the Gentle Leader on. He still likes to rub his nose on the ground and sometimes on my legs, but he is doing less of this as time goes on (most of the time).
Sit With Variables (Increasing Time and Adding Motion): We are gradually increasing the time he will stay in a sit. He will pretty reliably do it for 20 seconds at a time, and the goal is to get up to 60 seconds this week. We introduced motion last week while in the sit position, and he did well with that, too.
Recalls: He loves to come to me. If he is out in our fenced back yard and wanders away, sometimes all of a sudden he stops and looks for me, and when he sees where I am, he pauses for a second,and then all of a sudden takes off in a gallop at full speed toward me, and, of course, I take that opportunity to give him the cue, “Come!” (The $100 rule from class: Don’t give the cue unless you’d be willing to bet $100 that the dog will do what you are asking him to do).
Loose Leash Walking: In low distraction environments he is doing awesome on this. When out in public, after he settles down from his initial excitement at being in a new place, he walks happily by either side without pulling for several steps at a time.
Target Stick: A couple of weeks ago we were given collapsible metal rods and have been teaching the puppies (with the clicker, of course) to touch the end of the sticks with their noses. Rocket picked this up very quickly and will follow it now while I walk with it. We’re apparently going to use the target sticks to help teach some future skills – I’ll let you know when we start to do that what they will be.
Roll Over: This command isn’t what you might think.; it means for Rocket to roll onto his back and not all the way over. We added this skill last week, and Rocket learned it quickly. It’s pretty cute – he bends his front paws and waits for his tummy rub as part of his reward.
Get It/Retrieve: We have been told we can add the cue “Get It” for the retrieve games we have been playing. However, I didn’t add it yet because I felt Rocket has been kind of confused about this for the past few weeks, so instead I went back to the very beginning this week and just practiced throwing things into a corner and putting my hand under his chin when he picks the object up and having him give it to me. I think the light bulb of understanding has been switched on again. Tonight I had a bowl of popcorn in the living room – Rocket picked a clicker off of the end table and brought it over to me, so I put my hand under his chin and he gave me the clicker – I gave him a piece of popcorn, as I definitely wanted to encourage that behavior!- I’ll have to check with Nancy if it was okay for him to have popcorn (usually I just use his regular food for training).
ONE STEP BACKWARD BEHAVIORS:
Shaping/Wearing Pack: Last week, I noticed that Rocket wasn’t moving forward all the way into the pack. A couple of days ago, all of a sudden he even started turning his head away from the pack – yikes! He was so happy about it before, I thought that would never be a problem (never say never, right?). I’m guessing that this didn’t “just happen.” I’m probably unconsciously communicating something to him with my body language about the pack, so for the last two days I’ve been clicking him just for walking over to the pack. He’ doesn’t have any problem if I put the pack on him myself, but so far he won’t walk into it any further than his head. Maybe I’ll try working on this right before his meals to create a happier, more excited association with it. This was probably the issue I was thinking of when I mentioned my occasional worry about “ruining” him.
Better go Now on Leash: For some reason, Rocket isn’t always responding quickly to the cue for this now – I’m going to go back to not giving the command until he is actually “going” and make sure to click and treat for it every time to see if it improves over the next few days.
Drop: He seems confused about this right now and will often just go into a sit instead. I’m going to stop giving the cue for now and go back to getting a more reliable behavior. I’ll post our progress to this and the other issues when I have anything to report.
Now I feel better – it helped for me to write these things down and get a good perspective on how well we’re really doing! Yes, we have a few challenges, and I’m sure we’ll work through them. And once that happens, new ones will probably crop up. In some ways I enjoy these little problems because it is very satisfying to solve one!
Just for fun, here’s a little video of Rocket practicing “wait” for his food: