Monday, September 7, 2009

Enzo and the Vacuum: It's Yer Choice

I haven't had a chance to blog about my great experience at Susan Garrett's puppy camp yet or any of my experiences with Enzo. Life's been a bit nuts lately with teaching agility, coming up with class curriculum, competition to Q for nationals, visiting family, and work to pay for it all!

I think I'll talk about some of the things I learned at camp through the use of some examples. Enzo, being a respectable border collie, is quite reactive to things that move fast. This, unfortunately, includes normal everyday items like the vacuum cleaner and brooms. Susan had mentioned at camp that she picks her battles and the vacuum cleaner was not one she thought was important enough to take on. However, since I have 5 dogs and, therefore, an inordinate need to vacuum and sweep several times a week, this was an obsession that I was going to need to deal with sooner than later. Before camp, my thoughts would have been to wait for the attack and then correct the puppy with a time out or by yelling at him. However, at camp we learned the Its-Yer-Choice game which I have been playing daily with the little guy. I decided to use this as my plan of attack on the overcoming the vacuum obsession.

The Its-Yer-Choice game begins with a fistful of cookies. The fist remains closed until the puppy backs off, which causes the fist to open. Any movement forward causes the fist to close again. If the puppy chooses to remain sitting, cookies are delivered to the puppy. So the choice is to attempt to steal the cookies or remain sitting politely. The puppy quickly learns that sitting politely gets rewarded.

So, in the case of the vacuum (or the broom), the puppy has two choices, attack or not to attack. One of these behaviors gets rewarded, guess which one. I began with a pocket full of his kibble that was his lunch. As the vacuum began to move, the puppy went in for the kill. This behavior stopped the movement, play over. Once the puppy backed up, I moved the vacuum slowly. If he chose not to attack, he got a treat. If he moved in and barked or attacked, no cookie, movement stops. It should be noted that I did not treat directly after an attempted attack and withdrawal. I didn't want to reinforce that behavior. Only sitting politely for an entire stroke of the vacuum earns a reward. It only took about 5 minutes of this game to get him to choose that it was more rewarding to not attack the vacuum and sit idly by my side while that evil monster moved mysteriously back and forth across the hardwood floors. It took about twice as long to finish vacuuming my kitchen, but it was well worth it. I will most likely need to continue this behavior modification for some time. But it was an excellent way for Enzo to eat his lunch and learn a great lesson in self control, which will become hugely useful in his future agility career.

I have a feeling that self control will be the lesson of the day in just about everything I do with this puppy. He's an awesome little dog, but quite challenging. He's learning to make the right choices though, day by day. One of the new things I learned at puppy camp was that true learning can't really occur unless there's a choice to be made. So, we're focusing on allowing Enzo to make the right choices, and it begins everyday with the Its Yer Choice game. I recommend it highly for every pooch out there. I'm teaching Gromit and Quila too, since they're spoiled rotten pooches and neither of them know how to make a choice. I've allowed Quila to think that she can do anything, mostly because she's a golden and her poor choices are annoying, but usually not dangerous. Gromit just gets away with anything 'cause she's cute. Unfortunately Gromit has had 8 yrs of practicing thievery, so it'll be tough to change that, but I'll work on it. Quila is adaptable enough to understand exactly what we're doing and is catching on quite quickly. We'll have a happy house in no time :0)

Update: I wrote this post last week. Today when I vacuumed, I had Enzo in his kennel after playing and he was sound asleep. I was able to vacuum right next to him and he woke up, but just laid there without reacting at all. Later, he followed me into the bathroom and was able to sit there while I vacuumed and didn't try to attack it at all. Cool!