Two years ago, I was working on Do More with Your Dog tricks with Clara. We earned three titles: Novice Trick Dog, Novice Masters Trick Dog, and Intermediate Trick Dog. We both enjoyed it so much. I had no plans to stop.
Then I brought Lewis home.
I am still embarrassed, and yes, ashamed, that I stopped working on tricks with Clara for almost a year. (Yes, it’s almost two years now; I’ll explain.)
Saying Lewis has been a mixed blessing is putting it kindly. Yes, Clara benefits by having a another conspecific. They are comfortable with each other, except when he is hassling her. I intervene. But the first year I had him he took almost all of my time. I even had trouble keeping up with my work schedule. Lewis was difficult!
There went the trick training, until August of 2022. At that time, I started up again, and recorded four of Clara’s five required tricks for her advanced title.
Then I got stuck on a hard one, the directed retrieve. Clara and I have worked on it on and off for years, and she can do it in the manner we have practiced: indoors, at fairly short distances. But the setup for the trick title calls for the items to be at specific distances from each other. We had to do it outdoors because of space, and we had a hard time. I’m pretty sure the biggest problem was visual: her ability to see the dumbbells in the grass. I petered out on her again.
A couple of days ago I ran across her trick video—80% done. And I thought, carpe diem, let’s finish this thing.
Clara turned 12 this year. She has a serious illness (Cushing’s Disease), although it is mild and has stayed mild since diagnosis. But she is slowing down a bit and losing some hearing.
She has lived longer than both Summer and Zani, against all odds, considering her rough start in life, born and raised by a feral or stray mom. And I have that unique worry and gratitude that comes with having an aging dog. She is in the period of her life where I especially want to give her everything.
We are doing some other fun and enriching stuff (stay tuned for future posts), but we are also going back to the tricks!
Do the Work or Check the Boxes?
I’ve written about this before. There is a decision point with trick titles, or most performance titles, really. Do we train it thoroughly and get clean cues and a solid performance? Or do we just want the title and are willing to merely get the behaviors? There are various levels of shortcuts. With video submissions, these go up to and include filming enough takes that one of them meets criteria.
No, I haven’t done that. But my dogs usually have enough general foundation that I can teach a trick in a session or two, then move on. And in a way, that foundation is “putting in the work.” But relying on it to create a shortcut to the behavior doesn’t necessarily result in clean, perfect tricks.
I swing between these two approaches, but lean hard toward preferring to do the work. My main goal is to do fun stuff with my dog. I know what my frailties as a trainer are (duration, cues, and stimulus control) and here I also have an opportunity to improve my skills. Better skills on my part means clarity for the dog. That adds up to less stress and more fun.
That’s one of the reasons I went for the Novice “Masters” title, with double the number of tricks.
But this time I went for checking the boxes. We had four tricks already: put your toys away, whack a button, off-leash heel with auto sit, and fetch the leash. I shopped through the tricks list and found one she could already do for the last one: pick up and retrieve a credit card. We did have to do some work, though. They didn’t mention it in the directions, but the demo video showed the dog waiting to be cued. Ah yes, stimulus control, my old friend. So I asked Clara to lie down while I put the card down, then bring it to me when cued.
In the final outtake, you can see how much stimulus control I actually got. Oops. She has always loved to bring me things.
But having grabbed this title (hey, she’s 12!), I’m swinging back the other way, now. We’re going to go for the Advanced Masters and do five more advanced tricks. We’ll do some real work. I haven’t given up on the directed retrieve.
Enjoy the movie!
A special thanks to Gabi Vannini for evaluating our tricks!
Copyright 2023 Eileen Anderson