Bella has been slow and unfocused in training and she quickly lost interest. She was tired when we had Kaktus and he started stressing again and he needed so much help and focus that her training didn’t get the attention it deserved. So I worked on familiar tricks along with new ones where the main focus was to keep her engaged in the game. I had to relearn what made her motivated, what was her obstacles and how we could still challenge her.
I started with very short sessions where I made it so simple that she would earn many quick clicks. I made sure I was really quick with treat delivery and we never did one behaviour for long. When we started doing new behaviours I made sure to put in ones she already knew well in between to boost her motivation if I had challenged her. We switched between stationary tricks and ones with lots of movement so it wouldn’t become too boring and whenever she communicated that she wanted to do something else she was rewarded. We had been training to stand with the front paws on a book and I asked her to stand with her front paws on a shelf. She hesitated and instead of walking off and loosing interest in the game as she often would earlier she turned and stood on the book! She got a jackpot! She didn’t do what I asked of her, but I like that she communicated a preference and that she still wanted to train so she was highly rewarded. Whenever she showed enthusiasm and had lots of energy in a behaviour she was highly rewarded even if the behaviour wasn’t the best and whenever she was creative and tried something on her own even if it wasn’t what I was looking for she was highly rewarded. We tried free shaping and we always got stuck so I started to focus on her offering behaviours during normal trick training. I just want to see more of her and her creativity so I don’t care if what we are training is progressing exactly where I want.
She would sometimes get distracted, she thought she heard a sound etc. I would pause what we were doing and click her for focusing on me. Then I would work on our contact cue and very quickly she was back in the game and we could continue where we left off. I made sure to always adjust the training to her changing moods, I would improvise and change things up if she seemed to get bored and often we did completely silly stuff just to have something new and fun to do. One of those was training her to lift her paw over into a wooden box. She loved it but we will probably never use it for anything and it had no purpose. Or it did, the purpose was to be engaged and have fun. For treats I give tiny pieces because she is fat and she chews everything. If she is stuck chewing for a long time then I don’t get the rapid rewarding that I want so the tiny treats go down faster (though she still chews those).
One behaviour that is really helpful and at the same time confuses things is “high 5”. She loves the anticipation of when my very quick hand goes up and she explodes trying to hit it with her paw. It always gets her going and if I need more speed from her I just do a round of “high 5”, but then she also keeps doing it when I reach for treats or when I try to lure her into other behaviours. I just let her and we just slowly click the pawing out of whatever we are doing or I focus on the main behaviour. All our mistakes can be fine tuned later.
She has become so much more engaged and it’s not just the trick training, I reward her on walks and at home during the day for behaviours I like and her confidence and communication has grown so much. She has much more energy in all training. Whatever mistakes we make I learn so much from. It’s often clumsy and unorganized but she is engaged and she has fun and so do I. It’s this process that is so important and where she teaches me how to train her. I have been so in tune with Kaktus and training Bella is a world away from him. I can already challenge her more and ask more of her. She is becoming more independent and creative and I can ask more of her without her loosing confidence. I love our weird little sessions and I love seeing her having so much fun. And I really like that we don’t take anything serious other then having fun. The only seriousness is if she seems to loose interest and if we want to become serious at really nailing any behaviours the work we are doing now is so important. When she and I have progressed further then we can ask more of each other and start to work on the details.