Sunday, December 13, 2009

Ten Seconds

Happy days! Zachary stared at me for ten whole seconds on Friday! Woo Hoo!!!

I’m sensing a lack of enthusiasm on your part. I know, ten seconds doesn’t sound very long, so what’s the big deal, right? Would it help if I said it was the last item left in Sue Ailsby’s Training Levels Two? How about if I added that it took us three weeks of training, ten video sessions, and over 900 seconds of video of him NOT looking at me for ten seconds in a row before I finally got those ten seconds? That despite a weeklong self-imposed moratorium I put on videoing part way through. It was just too depressing.

It’s not that nothing was done during those minutes. Oh on… in fact, “doing” was sort of the problem. During that time he must have done a hundred sits and downs. He did a fair bit of spinning (both left and right) and even tried bowing. He is darn cute when he bows, but that was not what I wanted.

All I wanted him to do was look at me – for ten seconds.

We started out easy – with an eye flick toward me. Click. Treat. How hard could this be? I think we got to two seconds within a day or so, but that was it. As soon as we hit the two-second mark he was off doing something. He brought me toys, touched imaginary things on the ground, and tried to get me to play tug.

After all, this was training time. The whole point was to DO something, right?

So we started over with an eye flick, then one second, then two, and then he would start doing something again – maybe walk around a chair, bob his head, or nudge my hand with nose.

At some point he gave up on me altogether and nudged the clicker in my hand. I’m convinced he was trying to make it click on his own. Perhaps he thought the click itself summoned the treats, or caused some cosmic trap door to open and release its bounty. He’s very into the magic of training.

Back to an eye flick, then one second, then two, and then he decided that the problem must be where he was standing. He tried inching forward, tried walking backward, and even tried moving from side to side. Sometimes he moved a lot, sometimes just a paw. It was like he was searching for some hidden trigger in the floor (back to that cosmic trap door theory.)

Never has so much been done when so little was required.

In contrast, it took Beau about ten seconds to learn the task. Beau’s default behavior – what he does when he doesn’t know what else to do – is first to freeze, and then bark. Since he freezes for more than 10 seconds (just in case I change my mind and give him the cookies anyway) this was as easy skill to teach. I’d stand there and look at him. He’d freeze and look up at me (probably praying for cookies from heaven) and after ten seconds a click would occur, his prayers would be answered, and the cookies would fall.

Beau could do this all day.

Zachary’s default behavior is to lie down (so far so good) then sit up (not ideal, but not a problem so long as he is still looking at me) then lie down (we are now at the two second mark)… and then try everything else he can think of. He could have crammed every trick he knows into those ten seconds, and he knows a fair number of tricks. It was just beyond his comprehension that all I wanted him to do was nothing.

We got there eventually; one second at a time, one day at a time, one week at a time, and I really think he has it down. I sure hope so. The next level requires him to look at me for triple that time. Thirty seconds - just think of all the things he could do.


Hannah said...

Congratulations!!! *laugh* What a fun read! I can just picture Zachary throwing behaviors left and right!

(I'm a lurker on the traininglevels group. I have just started training my three Airedales using Sue's levels. Your question about how long it might take to train the levels was EXTREMELY helpful! I have been working on making goals for next year as well.)

BZ Dogs said...

Glad you liked it! It's a good time of year for making goals. I've just added a blog just for plans and such: - listed below their photo on the left. Still tinkering...

Anonymous said...

OMG, this was hilarious. I have been a fan of your training, your videos, and your dogs, and now I'm a fan of your blog. Very well written and very funny. I was laughing so much at the graf about Beau praying for cookies from heaven that someone came in to see what was so funny.

Plus, this is making me feel better about our L2 eye contact efforts. We can get to 10 seconds, just not if I SAY anything. If I SAY a cue, he must then look away. ahem.

BZ Dogs said...

Glad you enjoyed it!

I don't actually use a verbal cue for Watch (yet another thing I need to train, I suppose) although sometimes I'll cluck my tongue to get their attention. Usually I just stare at them, and they stare back.