I got back recently from doing a seminar in Ann Arbor, Michigan for the Ann Arbor Dog Training Club. What a wonderful audience; we had a fantastic time together. At least, I did, so thanks to Tammy and everyone at the club for having me. One of my favorite parts of this seminar (Both Ends of the Leash) is its focus on signals, or cues. The question we looked at in depth was: what sound or movement is actually the one that is salient to your dog? You may say “Sit,” and think your dog is responding to it, but so often it’s the tightening of the leash or the nod of the head to which your dog is responding. (okay, “to which” is grammatically correct, but good grief it sounds awkward!)
We had a great example of that in Ann Arbor. A lovely Golden (perhaps the most perfect example of “Life is good if you’re a Golden” I’ve seen in a while…. I mean, this dog was HAPPY HAPPY HAPPY!) was being asked to sit and stay. The dog was young, and was just in the beginning stages of understanding stay. We were working on practicing body blocks as a response to a break. Two women, great observers, noticed that the dog broke, every time, when the otherwise almost motionless owner let the leash unravel just the tiniest little bit. After saying stay, she backed up one foot and didn’t move, keeping eye contact with the dog. But without knowing it, she let the coils of the leash in her hands unravel an inch or two, and every time she did the dog broke.
That was an especially interesting observation, because I had just suggested to the owner that the only change I would make in her training was let her body loosen and move a bit while the dog was on stay, because otherwise the stillness would become the cue to stay, and any motion would cause the dog to break. Sure enough….
What a perfect example of a wonderful dog and a super trainer (she was great, and I apologize profusely for not remembering her name!) communicating on slightly different planes. It’s just amazing how tiny a movement can be and still get an effect out of a dog sometimes.. sometimes I wonder how we ever manage to communicate correctly at all!
Speaking of, last week I got myself spoiled silly with an entire morning spent with Ken Ramirez at the Shedd Aquarium. He indulgently let me work with Nya a beluga whale (I’ll tell you next time how I screwed up) and let us watch behind-the-scene training of a sea lion and a sea otter. The morning brought up lots of questions in my mind about the similarities and differences between training captive marine mammals and animals who live in our homes. I’ll talk about that next time…