Young Audie is a very conscientious dog. A thinker. Things matter to him.
As we continue with his education this attitude of mindfulness becomes more apparent. I can often tell when he reaches a new stage in understanding a concept because he will begin to practice (or rehearse) it on his own.
In practicing he repeats an action I’ve taught him on his own. He’ll often practice an action a few times in a row, then go lie down to process what he’s taught himself. The calm, mindful demeanor he expresses as he practices is utterly different from the bounding exuberance he is prone to much of the rest of the time.
Here are a few recent examples of his practicing:
- I’ve been working to teach Audie to pick up his and Zip’s metal food bowls and bring them to me at meal times. They’re somewhat heavy and oddly shaped which makes them more difficult to pick up than most (though not all) of the items I’ve had him fetch to me. If he picks a bowl up in what seems like the simplest way – by gripping the rim closest to him in his mouth – the bowl is not only difficult to balance in his mouth, it also obstructs his view as he tries to walk with it. So, I’ve been coaching him to work against his first instinct and pick the bowl up by gripping the rim of the bowl at the point where it is farthest from him. About a week after we started to do this I noticed that Zip’s bowl (the smaller of the two) seemed to be randomly moving around the house. I didn’t initially see him pick her bowl up and carry it, but it would *miraculously* appear in a new place three or four times a day. About four days after Zips’ bowl begin its journey, Audie’s bowl started to wander as well. The morning after he had apparently started to carry his bowl around on his own, he made the leap. When I looked down at him and asked “Would you like your breakfast?” he grinned, ran across the room and very carefully picked up Zip’s bowl – correctly, by the far side of the rim – and brought it to me. I took it from him and told him “Find the other one,” and he turned around and picked up his own bowl – correctly again.
This is still not a simple chore for him and he still practices it a few times a day. I’ve caught him at it recently and it’s fascinating to watch how he experiments with the task. He’ll often still sometimes take the bowl by the near side – then stops with a “hmmm, this isn’t right” look on his face – sets it down, tries again and then visibly goes “Aha!”
- We’ve also been working more on off leash heeling skills. Since my dogs spend most of their lives with me and off leash – heeling is one of the last “standard” obedience skills I teach them. Because my own dogs have a strong foundation in other skills (recall, send out, stationary commands, directionals, yielding) before we begin to work on the heel, we do most of our heeling work off leash right from the start. I start out working my dogs on short bits of off leash heeling with lots of turns and stops. The initial goals are to teach them to stay on my left side and to pay close attention to where I am going. My kitchen has had a central island surrounded on 3 1/2 sides by counters. It was a perfect place to practice beginning heeling skills as the narrow aisle between the counter and island restricts his ability to move out of correct position to, mostly, forward and backward errors. We started out working on short bits of heeling there, then as his skills improved moved inside the training building. There I set up traffic cones to create a smaller working area inside the 50×50 training room and we worked on random weaving patterns. From there, we moved on to working in amongst the seveal large hardwood trees in my front yard. As we moved from one training environment to another, I kept the patterns much the same. And I used the same body language to coach him.After I while he started to sometimes come and sit at my left on his own. He’ll usually do this either when I am standing still in a place where we’ve working on heeling – or when he wants my attention. And he adopts a rather formal posture as he does it. Without giving him a verbal command, I’ll crook my left arm, lead with my left leg and move forward. He looks up at me with a huge grin and heels along with me. He does this voluntary heeling in a very cheerful and animated way. Like a it’s dance, or a game.
It’s fascinating to watch this young dog learn and grow. I’ve learned to watch for these periods of practice and use them to establish the rhythms of our work together. If he seems to be having difficulty with a task, we keep working on it – but don’t add a new layer of complexity to the task until after he masters it in his own practice.