Recently I had Rye at my house. Rye is a cute little ball of energy and her idea of working with the dumbbell was to grab it and do a lab nutty all around the room before returning to hand it over to me. I tried not to laugh the first time it happened. I had a small degree of success restraining myself and with that, I knew what we needed to work on.
For me, teaching “hold” is the first step to teaching a nice “give”. Service dogs really need to have patience with their “give” because their people will not always be able to move fast or easily towards them. So my goal in teaching “hold” is to have the dog be still, either standing or sitting, while holding the dumbbell (still in their mouth) for a long period of time.
I worked with Rye for several days and was getting absolutely nowhere. My brain would muddle through what I was doing all through the night as I tried to sort out why she just wasn’t “getting it”. I’ve trained enough dogs to know that if they aren’t “getting it”, it’s usually something that I’m missing or not doing right for them.
And then the lightbulb!
I was reclined in my chair one night… (More muddling time) Rye slowly walked over to the side of the chair. When I turned and looked at her, she backed up. “Hmmmm…. Interesting”, I thought. “Perhaps she has never seen anyone in a recliner.” When I reached out to her she backed up. Interesting once again. I didn’t think too much of it beyond that. She seemed to get used to me in that position and all seemed to be fine.
The next day I set out with newfound determination to master this dumbbell situation once and for all. After all, I only had two more days with Rye.
We started our practice and it was going nowhere fast until I noticed that, from time to time, Rye would step back away from me. It wasn’t a very big step, but it was there and that’s when I knew what I had to do.
Rye was quite used to eye contact with her puppy raiser and even with me. She was well practiced with commands she knew and could sit in front of most anyone and stare right at them easily while sitting, staying, or laying down. But when she was slightly uncomfortable (like with the recliner) the eye contact from her person represented more pressure and she would back away.
When I was trying to teach her something new, she was struggling to figure out what I wanted. The added pressure of me hovering over her and looking directly at her made her nervous enough that she wasn’t successfully learning. She was struggling.
I started training her by looking slightly past her or just over her head. I avoided direct eye contact and when possible turned so I was not facing her directly head on. I watched her out of the corner of my eye. When I started doing that, Rye learned to hold in a couple short sessions. By removing the pressure of me looking directly at her, she was able to feel comfortable again, and was able to learn.
It seems that each dog teaches me new lessons. Rye was no exception! Thank you little girl!