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The lightbulb moment

So I’m teaching Zillekins, fetchy dog extraordinaire, to stare at me to make me throw the ball. She’s a delight to train because she’s really damn clever and also very, very willing to learn things for the right motivation. Being a very handler-sensitive dog[1], a correction harsher than a disappointed tone of voice is out of the question. The minute she hears “Oh, Zille, what did you do?” her head and tail and ears droop and she comes slinking over to reassure herself that although she might have momentarily slid toward being a Bad Dog, she is still loved. Not to mention the fact that I like training my dogs using rewards, because I want training time to be a fun game for everyone involved.

Anyway, all of this is a lead-in to say that at the moment, Zille must glance at my face to make me throw the ball. Looking away from the ball is hard for her, so I started with waiting until she looked *anywhere* else and succesfully shaped a darting gaze around the yard with stops at the ball. Then I started rewarding looking at me above the waist. She was still not QUITE getting it, but tonight you could see the lightbulb go off: “SOMETHING I AM DOING WITH MY EYES MAKES HER THROW THE BALL” and then “I MUST LOOK AT HER BODY TO MAKE THE BALL HAPPEN”. Sheer brilliance.

I still don’t have a stare, but at this point I’m only throwing the ball when she actually looks at my face. We’re working it. She’ll get there.

[1] Zillekins comes from Hard Ass Working Dog lines. Her mother, Danca, and father bite people for fun (aka they hold Schutzhund titles) as do a huge chunk of her ancestors. Danca has passed her sweetness and handler responsiveness to Zille in spades. Zille lives to be a Good Dog.

5 thoughts on “The lightbulb moment

  1. Of course she will, she’s smart!

    Instead of shaping and marking, I taught the watch first, then asked for it w/ verbal or hand request before tossing Celeste’s ROPEY TOY OF DOOM. Even though Celeste may look like a Zillekins Shepherd of DOOM, she is not very good with shaping. For example, 101 things to do with a box has pretty much been reduced to 2 things to do with a box, and one of them involves eating the box. Mina, otoh, is pretty sure she can do 501 things with a box, including throwing it at Celeste.

    I can’t believe I didn’t know about your DOMAIN. I’ve added you to the list o’blogaroos.

    1. Zille is good with shaping but problematic in that she moves faster than I do, most of the time. So it’s hard for me to hit the exact moment I want, even with a clicker!

  2. I just love that moment where they realise they are in control of making the good thing happen. I taught my horse a send-away last week (go stand in that square of poles) and he seemed to sort of get it. Then yesterday I tried again and he must have mulled it over in the mean time, because he saw the square laid out, his eyes lit up, and he crossed the entire arena to go stand in it.

    I’m teaching the stable dog ‘Staring at treats does not make them fall into your mouth’. The little whimpers are funny :-)

    1. I love when they go away and think about it and come back having processed things and figured it out, too. So much fun watching critters learn!

  3. Awwww, Zille!

    I remember that breakthrough when George (Labrador) realised he had to look at my face in order to get dinner, instead of staring fixedly at the food willing it to magick its way down his throat. He leapt deep into the new mode once the lightbulb went off, instead staring fixedly right IN HER EYES DON’T LOOK AWAY NEVER LOOK AWAY IGNORE DROOL PUDDLES DON’T LOOK AT THE FRIDGE DON’T LOOK AT THE FOOD DON’T EVEN GLANCE DON’T TURN HEAD BORE THROUGH INTO HER VERY SOUUUUUUUL NO NO DON’T LOOK AT THE FOOD UNTIL IT IS RIGHT IN MY MOUF AND HER HANDS ARE OFF IT COMPLETELY AND SHE SAYS ‘EAT’ YAY JOYTIME.

    He does throw himself into things wholeheartedly, bless him.

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