Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Finna Progress Report

It's been awhile since I reported on Finna's progress. Mostly that's because it seemed like all we were doing was trying to keep her from re-injuring her knee yet again. Finna has so much drive that keeping her quiet so her knee could recover was a task in and of itself. Every time she'd be making progress she'd be climbing on the footstool and fall off, or she'd try to put too much weight on her bad leg trying to pivot  and wipe out, or ... But finally she seems to be making real and steady progress and each day she's a tiny bit closer to sound.

Now that she finally seems to be getting sound again she's getting to spend more and more time off leash outdoors. She's even playing fetch for a few minutes at a time several times a day. It's a good time to work on her reactivity issues. Since reading Karen Pryor's book "Reaching the Animal Mind" we've been using a lot of clicker training rather than the marker training we were doing before. The two are very similar in that both use a marker to indicate that the behavior is the one being rewarded. The difference is that in marker training the marker is verbal, we use the word "click" since it isn't a word we say any other time. Many people use "yes" but that's something I say too many times a day and in too many contexts for it to be of use for Finna. In clicker training the marker is a staccato click sound made by a little clicker device. In both types of training the marker is followed by a reward/reinforcement. Recent scientific evidence, however, has shown that dogs learn and retain the behaviors taught with either type of training but dogs trained with the clicker learn it about 40% faster. Look for Ranger to Recommend  this book soon.

Finna loves the clicker. And the day she discovered that the click could happen in any context was a banner day for her. Now she can try something and if she receives a click she knows it's something that will work to get her a reward, food or the ball thrown are the two used most often although we also use games of tug and anything else that Finna likes.

Finna has learned to handle a lot of the noise from the noisy neighbors but she's still very reactive to unusual noises, their two chocolate Labradors, and most especially when the neighbors yell at their dogs. We're working on having her look at me when she's worried about what's going on; she looks away from what she's about to react to, toward me, she gets a click and I throw the ball as far as I can. Finna is also reactive to things happening on the street despite the fact that our fence is well back from the edge of the road. And she is reactive to things happening next door; that house has been empty for about a year except for random visits from people checking on it.

Today was a real test of Finna's learning as the Chocolate Labs were out and their people were yelling at them, there were kids playing basketball across the street, and a three cars worth of people doing something next door. She went over threshold a few times but saying "Fizza, Ready?" was enough to remind her that there was another option and she'd run back to me, look at me, and wait for me to throw the ball again. The one time I was caught without a ball ready I threw a treat instead and that was almost as good in Finna's mind.

Finna still isn't a safe or sane dog but in tiny increments she is getting better and having the click to tell her "this behavior gets rewards" is helping a lot. It feels a lot better to know what to do and being rewarded for it as well makes it a choice that is getting easier for her to make.