Lately I’ve spent quite a bit of time perusing the archives of Susan Garrett’s Dog Agility Blog. Partly to feed my obsession with dogs and dog sports and also because Susan Garrett is the ultimate dog training guru. She has some amazingly insightful ideas about things I would never consider on my own. Her knowledge of dog behaviour could, and has, filled multiple volumes. The way she explains everything makes it all sound so simple. After reading some of her articles I feel inspired to work harder.
But enough gushing, I’m probably embarrassing myself.
To get to the point, as I was reading through some older posts I found this one on shaping behaviour. More specifically, how dogs often shape the behaviour of their owners. Some of the comments were hilarious. I’d never really thought about that side of things. While dogs are undoubtably intelligent creatures, I hadn’t realised in how many ways this intelligence is applied. Or maybe I just didn’t want to think myself susceptible to a doggy scheme. The article got me thinking deeper about our relationship with Shiva and now I’m smacking myself on the head for being so easily duped by a canine.
Shiva has trained us to perform in so many ways it’s kind of mortifying to admit. For starters, from the beginning, every time Shiva felt she wasn’t getting enough attention she would wander over to the front door, look through the gate we have blocking the downstairs, and pretend to whine at the cat. Naturally, I would call her back up and then reward her for coming directly to me with a treat or a game. It was Shiva’s first big training success! Considering she’d only had us a week or so at that point, she’s a pretty good teacher.
Fortunately, I did eventually cop on to this scheme. Once when Shiva went over to do her usual whining I was busy with something and couldn’t respond right away. But I was able to look over to see her duck her head, whine, and then look back in my direction before turning to whine again. After that, I knew she was just looking for some form of attention and I started ignoring her whining at the gate. She kept it up for a little while, sometimes whining for several minutes, but now she rarely uses that tactic any more. Shiva didn’t give up on her student – don’t worry – she just moved on to the next strategy in her arsenal.
Since then Shiva has shaped us to let her on the couch when she rests her chin on the cushion, open the car window in the backseat when she tries to climb into the front, play a game of tug when she sits and stares at her toy, give her attention and give her affection when she sits at our feet with her head under our hands. This is only a short list. Some I don’t mind so much (the toy thing is really cute and isn’t it polite of her to ask so nicely?) while others I know we need to work on.
The one lesson she’s taught me that is going to be the most difficult to unlearn is one Susan Garrett even mentioned in her post. When we practice agility at home we always use a tug toy as a reward. Shiva’s tug drive is limitless and she could go for hours, at home. In class it’s a totally different story. We’ve tried bumpers and squeakies and ropes and her favourite rubber ring but in class she won’t accept anything but food. I’ve tried tugging with her before class or before we start a sequence but often she’s just not into it. Every single time she ignores the thrown toy and goes for my pocket. We have had success getting Shiva to tug the treat pouch but that’s kind of where we have stalled. Most of the time I don’t even bother pulling the tug toy out any more. Until I read the article I didn’t know that Shiva had shaped us into letting her choose which reward she gets. She’s so good I don’t even know if there is anything I can do about it. I can’t not reward her for a well-done sequence. I worry if I only have a toy on me she will become bored with the class. Shiva has mastered the shaping technique so well I bet she could write a book.