Scoop is 18 weeks old today. It sounds much better to have an 18 week old puppy that is almost 18 inches tall and weighs 23 pounds than a mere 4 ¼ month old with that height and weight! Is he going to be a pony or a dog? I am hoping for a regular sized dog of course and continue to negotiate with the universe about how tall he will be. The negotiations are pretty one sided, like, I am pleading for him to not go over 21 inches. Since his estimated full height may be beyond that, given where we are today, I now have my sights set on him staying below 22. He seems a physically balanced puppy, I am thankful for that! My first border collie Scud was 23 inches tall and 50 pounds. He had no problem getting round the courses rather successfully, so if I have another big one and he ends up as nice as my first, I will be happy. Scoops sisters and brothers are also about the same height and the littermates that were smaller last month have caught up now.
I have been thinking a lot lately about the order in which I am teaching skills to Scoop. I don’t want one behavior to interfere with the ease in teaching another one. I had thought about working on his walk backwards this week. But since I am just in the process of putting a cue to his right turn, and then I need to proof it with the left turn as well as other cues, I decided to put it on the back burner. If I start shaping walk back before I finish the right turn I am sure I will have some cross over from him taking a step towards the right or a step backwards.
One of the prompts for him to start to turn to the right is me standing in front of him, clicker in hand. Since it is the only behavior I am actively shaping and there is no equipment or other position involved, it is helpful that if I look like I am in training mode, staring at him without moving, that he is expecting that we are working on the right turn. Where we are at with the right turn: I have added the verbal cue right, just as he begins the move. The next step is adding the cue word earlier and earlier until I am saying it before he is thinking about moving. I hope today I can take that behavior on the road, and trust that I have it on cue, meaning he will only turn to the right after hearing the word right. Any other time he offers to turn right I will ignore it and he will only get reinforcement for doing the skill after I have asked for it. It took me a bit longer to shape the turn to the right then it took for me to shape the left turn. I am uncertain if that was because the turn to the left took precedence and because I taught it first, or if he just turns more easily in the left direction. I had no problem with him starting the right turn, I don’t think he ever offered to do a left turn when I was shaping right. Anyway, it just seemed to take longer to get him to move lightly and quickly to the right and get to a point that I could name the skill and finish it up. I wrote some weeks ago that I use the cue back for the right turn with my other dogs. Because I chose the release word break for Scoop, I decided that I would use the word right for him, as break/back are too similar.
The order I have taught (or am teaching) some of his skills.
- Release taught before positions (sit down stand)
- Tugging before crate games are played
- Recall before retrieve so that I could call him in to me after the pickup
- Line up swing into position before heelwork so that he understands a position relative to my body
- 2 on 2 off competence before targeting
- Disc target before hand target
I have decided not to teach hand targeting until I have great disc targeting. I like hand targeting, I use it with my dogs on their stays to get them to jump up and touch my hand and then drop into position where they will stay. And it is an easy skill to add between exercises to reset the dog for something else. I think I can get the same drive and reliability to a disc without doing a hand target which can complicate getting the disc target out of my hand. I am not going to really start the disc for a while, so in the meantime no nose targets at all for Scoop.
I won’t teach any tricks yet that involve him waving a front paw or cueing off a hand signal from me until I feel confident in his stays. I am often holding treats in my “handbowl” (handful of cookies from which I remove one reinforcement treat at a time) very close to him while he is in a position or in his cage. Teaching him to move a foot before I have good sit stays might be counter productive. In each behavior I teach I try to consider if how I am teaching it, or any cue I might give, would interfere with something else he is learning. He is just 4 months old, I have plenty of time to teach any trick or skill I need for agility in due time.
I am headed off to Amsterdam tomorrow, and will compete next week in the European Open. I hope my puppy won’t go feral while I am gone! I know Jim will have a great time playing with him this week. Hope you are enjoying training your pup as much as I enjoy training mine!