Monday, October 21, 2013

Patience…how to teach your dog to shake in 10 minutes.

The mastectomy didn't just remove tissue, it has my energy level pegged firmly on empty. The lack of energy is making me reevaluate the importance of things that need to be done. The frequency of vacuuming the house or mopping the floors has definitely declined. Dogs need to be brushed and bathed and it hasn't happened. Fortunately, Ed handles all the grocery shopping and cooking. I'd likely be starving otherwise. Some things I have no choice in confronting. Going back to the day job full-time. Painting to bring in extra money to pay unexpected medical bills. My continuing antibody infusions, autoimmune issues and ongoing breast reconstruction demand time and attention as well. Sometimes I want to just curl up and sleep for 24 hours straight. I'm still working to find an acceptable balance; figuring out what I can and can't get done. It's a little frustrating. I was already living at a lower energy level than the average person and this additional hit has knocked me to the ground.

"Two of a Kind"
4"x4" Acrylic on Masonite • Unframed • $50
The pets don't understand why I haven't been paying much attention to them lately. I sit down and I'm completely covered with cats and at least one dog within seconds wanting love. I make an effort to talk to and pet any of them I see throughout the day, but I don't have the energy to play much and my patience wears thin at times and of course I feel guilty about all of it and I don't have the option of explaining it to them.

What helps the most with chores is keeping up with them before they become overwhelming. Instead of letting dishes pile up, rinse them and put in the washer as you use them. Sweep one room a day instead of all at once. Recently, I applied this same logic to teaching Archie dog to shake. Just do a little bit at a time. He is smart and wants to please me and has quite a vocabulary that he understands already, but not in the way of 'tricks.' He learned sit and lay, but these were more for our benefit in getting him under control. He was a bit wild having been a stray and didn't understand that there were rules to be followed with us and with the other animals. He has learned a great deal, but I decided I wanted him to learn shake. The rest of the dogs already knew how.

I don't like to teach my guys using food reward unless they just refuse to respond to praise alone. In Archie's case, he gets entirely too excited by food to concentrate on anything else anyway. I had to use Cheerios initially to teach him to sit, just to get him focused on me, but moved to praise quickly so that he would follow commands without expecting to get a food reward every time. This method may take longer with some animals but I believe having a dog that trusts and wants to please me is better than a dog who just wants the food.

If you have furry pets, you know it's impossible to go to the bathroom by yourself. I decided to use these little snippets of time to teach Archie. The first few lessons went like this…I would pick up his paw and say 'shake.' His response would be to immediately fall to the ground on his back in a submissive position. End of lesson. I wanted him to figure out what I wanted for himself. To think it through, so I never said 'no' or forced him to get up and try again. These lessons lasted less than 5 seconds total. 

We went through this for a couple weeks whenever he followed me into the bathroom. He eventually stopped falling down and would instead try to gnaw on my hand as I held his paw and said shake. I'd let go each time. End of lesson. Another couple weeks of this. Again, he suddenly stopped putting my hand in his mouth and instead just stood there calmly as I lifted his paw and said the command. I let this continue for about a week. 

Finally, I stuck my hand out without touching his paw and said 'shake.' He looked at my hand and then at my face intently for just a moment. I knew at that point he got it; before he even lifted his paw, you could see it in his eyes. They were smiling. He confidently and enthusiastically slapped his paw right into my hand. I praised him and we both went a little berserk with happiness. I had no idea if this would work. I had been much more conventional in training the other dogs. It was an experiment. I've continued to reinforce the shake to make sure he has it down. Yes, it took over a month for him to learn the behavior, but when you add up the actual time I spent teaching him, it couldn't have been more than 10 minutes total. You can accomplish a lot with a little bit of patience. Occasionally I forget and just need a reminder.