Friday, September 29, 2017

This is How She Trains Her Dog (and How Her Dog Trains Her)

We've had Luna for almost eleven months now, but she's really only been working on being trained for the past five or so, when the basic obedience course offered by the closest doggy daycare finally fit into our schedule. Seriously, it's not as if we could have gotten anything else done on a Saturday morning during the ballet year!

Matt and Will went through the basic obedience course with Luna once, and then were supposed to work with her one-on-one to cement the commands they'd covered before they enroll her for the next level.

And... they're still working on that.

Luna is probably around four years old now, and she came to us having had a litter and a bad case of heartworms. She's the sweetest dog that I've ever met, so clearly somebody treated her right, but equally clearly that never consisted of ever asking her to do anything. Ever. Which is so weird to me, because I've known plenty of people who are lazy dog owners, and their dogs will still shake hands or "beg" for a treat or something. Anything. Something stupid, probably, but something.

But our Luna came to us not even not knowing any commands, but not knowing how to play at all, and with seemingly no understanding that human language and gestures have meaning, or that she should look to humans for communication. The first thing that Matt and Will were taught was to hold a treat at their forehead to get Luna's attention, and then to give her the treat so that she learned to associate paying attention with a reward, and this step took FOREVER. Honestly, I think Luna still forgets, and Will still drills her on this sometimes.

In addition to the "watch" command, Will trains Luna daily on "sit," "down," "come," and "touch," which is the prerequisite to "heel." Luna can do those commands now, but not consistently. Still, it's better than she did for months upon months, when Will had to physically move Luna's body into position after every command.

I, personally, would have gotten sick of this after the first week, and Will has had her moments of frustration, but for the most part, she is more consistent and patient with her dog than I have ever seen her be before:

She finally watches!

Here's a good down, and Luna isn't jumping up immediately for a change, so it's a VERY good down!
The good down was probably mostly a fluke...

Will usually rewards Luna with bits of hot dog, but I think that's bad for her arteries, and so every now and then I talk her into making a batch of homemade, healthy dog treats. Luna really likes these honey dog treats, but these particular ones are the same no-bake, pumpkin and oat dog treats that my Girl Scout troop taught Brownies to make at a Pets Badge workshop last month, and we have tested them on MANY animals, and every single animal has adored them:

Luna loves them so much that when Will accidentally spills them, life kind of becomes chaos:

Back to work!

Will still puts a treat on her forehead to remind Luna to "watch."

She also has Luna "touch" to encourage her to go weird places, because Luna is scared to go weird places. She avoids our kitchen because she's scared of the slippery floor there, bless her heart.
This dog has given this kid so much more than we have given this dog. We've only given Luna food, shelter, walks, training, fun experiences, and unconditional love and affection. But she has given our older daughter gifts she wouldn't otherwise have. Learning comes easily to Will, so easily that she barely notices that it's happening most times. It's so easy for her to learn new things that it's also easy for her not to understand that learning isn't this easy for most people. I've seen many, many clever children (and adults!) who are disdainful, contemptuous of others who learn more slowly than they, annoyed by people who take a while to think, who ask questions about something that's already been covered, who need material repeated for them, who need to repeat the material over and over again. It's a disgusting state of mind, and I won't permit Will to voice it at another, but I can tell that she thinks it sometimes. Who wouldn't be tempted, when they see someone inexplicably struggling with something so EASY? It's easy to lose your compassion that way, to think that your quick learning makes you better, when really it's nothing to your credit--you were simply born that way. But if you think that it makes you better, then you think that those who can't duplicate your quick wit are worse than you, and perhaps they deserve their bad breaks, and you don't notice all the good breaks that you've been given just because you happen to be such a clever girl.

But then here comes this dog. You love her the most, and she loves you the most, and you'd do anything for her, and you know that she'd do just anything in her power to please you. But boy, is she a slow learner. You tell her the same things over and over and over again, and you know she wants to do what you say; you can see by her head tilt and her wriggling butt and the uncertain lifting of her front paw that she desperately wants to do what you say, but she just. Doesn't. Get it. You have to patiently demonstrate the same thing over and over again, watching her so eager, watching her not get it, and you get so frustrated, but how can you be mad at her? You can see how much she wants to do your thing. You can see that if willpower would make her learn the thing, she would have learned the thing long ago. It's clearly not her fault, because she's absolutely the best dog, but being the best dog in the world does not mean that she's the fastest learner. She may, in fact, be the slowest learner.

But you don't give up, because you love your dog so much (and also because your mother won't let you, because she secretly knows what is going to happen). And very, very, VERY slowly, what your mother secretly knows will happen does, indeed, start to happen. One day she points out to you that you used to have to push your dog's butt down to get her to sit every single time, over and over again, but now you only have to do it sometimes. And then hardly ever. You used to have to say, "Down," and then physically pull your dog's feet out from under her to lay her down, but now you only have to put the treat down there and she remembers. She IS learning. It IS happening. And whereas you take your own learning for granted, as if everyone can spell a word aloud once a day for four days and then have that spelling memorized, and can read a whole book an hour, every hour, you are absolutely thrilled at every very small advance that your dog makes in understanding. Every time she remembers to sit, you celebrate. You're more patient. You're learning to be more encouraging. You're becoming a better person every time that former shelter dog looks in your face, her ears up, and wills herself to learn for you.

That's of far more value than anything that we could possibly ever give to this dog of ours.

1 comment:

Tina said...

I love this so much! Dogs are so amazing in their abilities to be patient teachers and students.
Some of my favorite treats for our pup are frozen peas and carrots (we buy them already frozen). They are small, low in calories, and for the most part, he just poops them out. So he thinks he's getting something awesome, but it doesn't make him chubby!
Sometimes if I am asking him to do something in a super distracting location, or something that I know is super hard for him, I will use cooked meat. Anything unseasoned should be safe as long as there are no bones. My favorite is chicken, but when he was sick, I cooked up some liver and he got that during training.

Keep up the good work Will!


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