Monday, December 3, 2012

Basic Training

Meeting Patchface, Penny and Jenny.

Totally airborne! This great shot was just random chance...there are more photos of just the grass, because she was out of the frame before  the camera and I could respond!

Sookie's toybox...the Hugelkulture pile and waste wool composting area.

 I remembered the camera this morning when we went out for our morning romp/field training session in the East Margin Pen. She is a much easier dog to photograph than any of my other Border Collies, who were/are all camera shy. She's a bit of a ham, but mostly she's like this whether the camera is on her or not.

She continues to amaze me with her ability to learn. The gate/door thing (wait/come through) is coming along nicely, and we're already doing some off-leash work with it at the front door. I try hard to be totally random about it--sometimes I step through and close the door in her face, sometimes I send her through before I go through, all different variations so she learns to listen for the command and not for a particular gesture, time, or routine.

She is a very "footy" dog, with several related habits that I'm trying to change. One is that she is constantly trying to check out the dishes in the kitchen sink, the crumbs on the dining table, etc.--putting her feet up and of course the head follows, with that slim nose reaching out as far as possible. Another is that when I am working at the computer, she frequently paws at me, puts her feet on the chair next to me, etc. She also puts her feet up on the door sometimes when we're approaching it, and sometimes puts her feet up or paws at me when she comes to me.

Most of these behaviors are relatively inconsequential now. But any day--I hope!--we will have wet weather again, and then those sweet spotted paws will be muddy/manurey. It won't be so cute then!

I don't like animals around my food, so cats AND dogs are not allowed on my tables or counters. Discouraging the habit of cleaning up the dishes after me is a challenge, because she usually does it when I'm not in the room. Sometimes I hear tell-tale sounds, and can rush in and reproach her. She clearly knows she isn't supposed to do this! But mostly, I need make sure there isn't a food reward for her searching. The butter dish and crackers that I like to keep on the table during chili season are now in a heavy covered casserole dish, I clear the dishes and food off the table as soon as I get up, and brush off the crumbs. So it looks like once again a dog will teach me to become a better housekeeper! Toss taught me to make my bed...because when the Border Collie comes in from the sheep pens on a muddy day, the bed best be all made up if you want to sleep in clean sheets. A huge part of training a Border Collie is training oneself. That is one reason I've waited so long after Toss's death...wanting to be sure I was ready to retrain myself.

The relentless pawing at me while I'm at the computer has really bugged me, so much that last night I finally put her in her crate so that I could get anything done. It's important that I do this BEFORE I'm irritated with her, so she doesn't associate the crate with punishment. But I really don't want to have to lock her up to work; I like petting her head (at my initiative, not at her demand) while I'm waiting for the stupid little spinning beach ball on my Mac. What to do?

I had an insight today: I'm rewarding her with attention (what she wants, because the computer is getting it) by brushing away her paws each time she puts them up. It becomes a game, like the "Slap Hands" game Dad used to play with us when we were kids. So today, I've disciplined myself to instantly get up and go do something else--even just walk in a circle around the room--while studiously ignoring her, the moment that paw comes up. Also, I try to remember what she wants--attention and praise--and give it to her when she is respecting my desire to focus on the computer.

The first few computer sessions throughout the day, I didn't get much done on the computer, but I did get a lot of exercise. This evening has been a major improvement. For awhile, she went and lay in the crate on her own accord. Now she is laying quietly at my feet. She's also motivated me to get up and finish reupholstering the dining chairs, improve the barricade protecting the cat box, put some linens away, etc. Fortunately I'm a bit ADD, and I frequently switch tasks anyhow.

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