Sunday, December 6, 2015

A New Class for Bandit!

Bandit and I are actually taking two classes through the Fenzi Academy this term.  Bandit has taken over from Tessa in Part 2 of the Conditioning and Fitness class.  We are doing that one at gold level.  I am also taking a class with him at bronze level called "Cookie Jar Games".

The purpose of the Cookie Jar Games class (hereafter referred to as CJG) is to build the dog's capacity to work for delayed gratification.  Since the class is appropriate for dogs of all ages and skill levels, I thought it would be a good fit for Bandit.  And so far it definitely is!

As I said in my post about Rally class (just below this one), I have been struggling with Bandit in the one room with his intense sniffing.  This is sniffing that goes beyond the typical interest in scents that most dogs have.  And there might be an element of stress to it, but I do believe it is actually nose driven for the most part.  The scents in that particular room seem to be driving him over a threshold, leaving him in a place where he literally can't focus on anything else.

I have been at my wits end trying to figure out how to work on voluntary focus in that context.  I flatly refuse to demand focus from a dog because experience has taught me that the strongest capacity for focus and attention is built when the dog does the work of choosing to offer it in the training process.  But, in order to work on voluntary focus, you actually need to get at least some glimmer of it.  I was, very frequently, not getting that.  The Give Me a Break Game, which is my standby for building excellent voluntary focus and duration of focus, was not working with him because he couldn't seem to get his brain engaged enough to actually play the game.  He can play GMAB very well at home, and in less difficult contexts, but he couldn't seem to make the transition from those lower level distraction situations to this one.

I am certain that Bandit needs a specific structure that makes sense to him that will allow him to bring his brain into working order in that context.  But I was stuck trying to figure it out.

Enter CJG.  I believe I just may have found the answer!!

One of the first week exercises is to "load the cookie jar".  Bandit actually got to watch me open the lid and put treats into the jar.  We were doing this at home, by the way.

That piqued his interest in a major way.  It got his Border Collie brain working and I could see it in his eyes - what are we going to do with THAT?!!?

Bandit's "Cookie Jar"

After that I kind of went off on my own.  I often go "off manual" when I am working with my dogs in online classes - much as I often do in regular classes!

I put the jar down on the ground and of course Bandit's nose was plastered to the lid with the holes in it.  I let him push it around on the floor for a few seconds and then I clicked.

The purpose of the click was both to mark his choice of interacting with the jar and to indicate that he should turn to me for a treat.  In doing this, I kind of turned the exercise into a "Sniff That" structure, similar to Look at That from Control Unleashed.

At first he couldn't take his nose off that jar!  Just as he often cannot take his nose off the floor in that room in the training building!  I let him figure it out because in this context I knew he would pause and look to me eventually.  When he did, I gave him a treat from my hand.

He immediately went back to the jar.  Perfect!  I let him nose it around a bit and . . . click!  Again, he continued to push at the jar a bit, but again, he looked to me, and got a treat from my hand.

And then . . . . I saw the lightbulb go off!!  He got it!!

I would release him to the jar and he would sniff at it, nose at it, get involved with it, and I would click and he would immediately turn to me for a treat.

Success at last!!

This was a major breakthrough!  Bandit finally figured out the piece that I believe has been missing for quite a long time.  He can choose to engage in something and get involved with it, and when he hears the click, he should immediately engage back with me for reinforcement.

I am so excited about this!

What I am hoping to do is to continue to work with this at home for a bit, but then take the jar to the training building and play the game with him in that room.  I believe that, in spite of the floor, Bandit will be able to get involved in playing this game.

And I think this may be able to serve as the bridge that will communicate to him, "you can pay attention to me and work when we are on this floor!"

Granted, I don't really know exactly where the class is going to go, nor how we are supposed to use the jar.  I have a feeling I am going to learn a lot more that is going to be of big help to us.

But I can already say I've gotten absolute gold for my work with Bandit so far.

I am looking forward to where we go from here!

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