Friday, March 13, 2009

Healthy competition

I suppose I'm just a bit slow on the uptake, but I finally figured out what motivates Star. It's not food, it's not toys... it's dogs--and specifically, it's DOZER.

Dozer is her number one best bud (he would totally disagree--he still holds her in disdain).

So, okay, it's training session time at our house. For ten minutes I am supposed to spend time teaching Star the latest commands... I'm trying my best to get Star to pay attention, and she's watching Dozer while he plays with a toy, wanders into the bedroom, gets a drink, falls asleep... She's so infatuated with him that even my beefy smushy stinky treats and highest-pitched happy voice have no effect. If I put Dozer in some other room, Star tries to find him. Screw the treats, screw me and my stupid commands.

Finally I ask Dozer over. She wants to watch him? Fine. She might as well watch him do tricks. Dozer happily does "sit," "down," "bang bang," and "shake." Treat, treat, treat, treat.

By the time we get to "shake," Star's eyes are as round as an owl's, and... could she be...? Yes, she's turning green with envy. NOW I've got her full attention. WTF, Lady, where are MY treats??? When I tell Dozer to "shake," Star's paw comes up just as fast.


Why didn't I think of this before?

So I spend fifteen minutes running an impromptu competition between the dogs. Star is watching Dozer just as much as she's watching me. The speed of her response to commands skyrockets. He wants the treats? Well so do I!! He's going to sit? Well so am I!!

As an added incentive, if Star screws up, no treats for her--and Dozer gets TWO treats just for being there. Now that really sets her off. You can almost see her jaw set in determination as soon as she realizes what's happening when she messes up. (Dozer, meanwhile, has question marks flying out of his head--what are all these treats for??)

After the training is over and the treats are eaten, Star is still so excited that she expends her remaining energy doing zoomies around the house.

This is a FAR cry from just a few days ago, when she spent the training session hunched over, staring into space, and generally acting like a school kid waiting for the last bell to ring. She would glance at me with despair, as if to ask "Why are you doing this to me? It's stupid and weird."

It seems that Star has moved from a reluctant trainee to a tough competitor. She's a bit sloppy, but she's enthusiastic, and that's fine with me. I'll refine the tricks later--right now I'm just happy that she's actually enjoying the training. I'm also really hoping that by seeing Dozer enjoying the tricks and treats, Star will discover that training is not some form of bizarre torture reserved just for her--it's a fun and normal thing that dogs and people do together.

Yesterday she learned "catch it" (catch the treat) and I refined the "sit" and "watch me" commands. Today I taught her "sit pretty" and "sit up" (sitting up from a down position).

Dozer actually did terribly by comparison, because his favorite trick is "bang bang," so he would collapse on his side in a death pose regardless of what I was asking. I think he realized he was just being used. :)


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forsythia said...

I love it that Dozer's favorite trick is "bang bang."
I guess there's a reason his name is "Dozer."

Rinalia said...

Good job for figuring out what motivates the Star-meister!

EmilyS said...

And yet there are people who don't believe that dogs can learn from each other.

Dennis the Vizsla said...

Brilliant! Kelly has done similar things with Dennis, but mainly related to confidence-building.

daisydog said...

Cool, I notice hat Roscoe has done the same thing. I never trained him, but when I give Daisy the command or hand signal, Roscoe does the smae thing! He is very food oriented, where Daisy is not.

Leila said...

I can't stop giggling. I'm picturing Dozer in my head and his confusion. But the end justifies the means.

I have to say that Star is adorable and you are doing a great job with them both.