Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Pet Expo

Beckett and I volunteered this weekend at a Pet Expo. Of course, as per usual I'm running late (I left with plenty of time to spare, I swear). So after finally finding a parking spot in a garage 5 or 6 large blocks away, I get the dog out of the car only to face the smelly damp cement stairs. The treats I have in my pocket don't hold much over the nervousness he is showing, but if I put them right by his mouth he takes them. So with some verbal encouragement, more treats, and surprisingly little effort we make it down the four flights in the spooky stair well. Awesome considering greyhounds and stairs aren't always on the best of terms...

I'm alone holding all the stuff that ones needs to for these sorts of things including a greyhound sized dog bed (just what you want to be carrying 5 or 6 blocks). And of course, this is me, so inevitably I get lost. I can't find my way out of a paper bag never mind to the guard shack on E 16th street, so not only do I have the dog stuff, but a cell phone with my husband trying to give me directions to my ear and a dog to handle while all while I'm trying to figure out where I am and how get to where I need to be.

Some embarrassingly long amount of time later I find my way to the guard shack, the guard points me to the entrance - a huge dark foreboding tunnel with vents powerfully blowing warm stale air lining both the floor and ceiling. Beckett wasn't going anywhere.

The treats I had in pocket which barely got us down the garage stairs were doing nothing, I was stressed, anxious and irritated. So I took a deep breath, fished around for a higher value treat and used a verbal "yes." Nothing, he wouldn't even look at the treat. I juggled my load and fished around my pocket for the really really good treats. I tried again, nothing - he was frozen - gone.

, now, I'm even more irate. I hate when I get that way, its just not the me I want to be. I had choices, I could try to tug him, push him, turn around. I chose to put my bag down by (but not touching) one of the many fragrant urine soaked orange traffic cones and emptied my bag, locating the clicker which had made its way to the absolute bottom. I took another breath, I said Beckett's name, no response.

Then.. I clicked.

At the sound of the click Beckett turned his head and took the treat. His ears popped up and he looked at me. I clicked again, soon I was clicking and treating for every movement, then every step forward, and suddenly my dog was back. Beckett had his mouth open, ears relaxed and was happily heeling at my side through a tunnel that would make Freddy Krueger pause.

Once again, I rediscovered the wheel or in this case the clicker. Positive reinforcement alone just doesn't work as well for me or my dog. The clicker worked where positive reinforcement alone failed and it continued to work - in a convention hall filled with cats, rabbits, lizards, parrots, food, and more dogs then I've ever seen. The entire time Beckett walked by my side in relaxed attentive manner that would have made a service dog proud - well at least it made me proud.


  1. Oh, I love this post!

    Have you read "Reaching the Animal Mind" by Karen Pryor? There's a lot in there about how the sound of the clicker goes straight to the amygdala (if I'm keeping my parts of the brain straight), whereas a verbal marker can't- that autonomic response is unique to the acoustics of the clicker. I think you're very clever for taking advantage of that! Clicking nothing isn't exactly intuitive, but it was exactly the right thing to do.

  2. I'm not sure I was or am right. I'm just doing by best I can.

  3. It worked, so I think you were probably right.

    For what it's worth, you have my respect and admiration as a trainer. You're very good.