Fine motor skills, and focus

We started training on “Focus” on Friday, and it’s a lot harder (for me) than you would think. As with most of our training, Ziva has caught on pretty quickly, and it’s me who has a hard time learning. Jokes about “old dogs learning new tricks” aside, I think there is something in the adage. Ziva has that innocence that kindergarteners posses. When I was in graduate school, my prof asked us one night: “Who here knows how to sing?” And predictably, about 2 out of 20 hands went up.  The rest of us thought “dear god, is she going to make me sing???” But then she said, “What do you think would happen if you ask a group of kindergarteners ‘who knows how to sing?” Over time we learn to hold back — I say  “I don’t know how to sing” because I’m not very good at it, not because I don’t know how.

I think adults can learn a lot of new things — I’ve taken French lessons as an adult. I’m teaching myself to play the ukelele (no, really, I am!) But I have no doubt it’s taking me longer to learn that, just like it’s taking me longer to learn some of this handling business because I totally over think everything. As I described in the last post, to teach “Focus,” the dog sits at your left, you have their food in your right pocket. You take a handful out with your right hand, transfer it at waist level to your left hand. When the dogs you in the eye, you say a very hearty “Yes!” and left your left hand to your left eye and then down to the front of the dog — just enough in front of their mouth that they have to reach out just a tiny bit.

This very patient face will tell you that it has taken some time for me to master this process:

Ziva sits, looking up at the cameraIt has taken me some time to get the timing down of all the hand transfer of treats. Not to mention the actual giving of treat to mouth. We are supposed to be using their food, so since Ziva eats kibble I figured that would be pretty easy. If you read back to the early posts of Obedience 1 class, we fed her kibble from our hand for many weeks as a way to build the bond and reinforce behavior. The difference is that then we could feed a handful, whereas in this training, it is one piece per “Yes!” Our trainer suggested a couple of different brands of food that have larger sized kibble (and softer too).  But to be honest they are out of our process range. So we tried with the little kibble, and guess what? It went flying everywhere.

Two sizes of kibble are shown, one much larger than the otherI went to a PetValu store and asked about kibble sizes, and we are very happy to have found a kibble for large breed dogs, which has larger-sized pieces. It may seem like a silly thing, but look at the difference in the sizes here, and imagine trying to gracefully give one piece at a time. You have a small handful of food in your palm, and you manuever one piece to hold between your thumb and first finger, in order to give to the dog. And if you drop a piece, the dog is not supposed to eat it, because all the food is supposed to come from your hand. This poor dog was so patient with me when one of the little pieces of kibble would go flying and I would tell her no. I have nothing against small kibble, but my fingers just could not hold onto these things while I was trying to remember to transfer at waist level, hold up to my eye and then down to her mouth.

But we’ve been working on this for a couple of days now and we both seem to be getting it. I’m definitely much smoother with my part (thanks, large kibble!, and she understands the rules. She doesn’t get any other treats right now — not training treats, even. So we have been mostly playing in the backyard rather than going on long walks, because I can’t really do much bridging if we see other dogs. We’ve been doing a ton of fetch and tug in the yard, and so far that seems to be getting enough energy out of her (along with so)me short walks around the block when it’s not high dog-traffic time.) I’m going to work not his for a couple more days in the kitchen, and then our next challenge is to set a baseline of how long it takes to eat a meal’s worth. Say, 4 minutes. Then we go someplace else — maybe just the back yard, or the front yard — and then see if we can get it done in 4 minutes. The goal is that she can focus on me no matter what other distractions are out there. And so, while at first I was annoyed that a cat walked through the room when we were trying to do our training, or some other interruption happened, now I see that’s all part of the process. We start with the little distractions and build, build, build.

Zika’s focus is getting stringer and stronger. Meanwhile, my fine motor skills have never been better!

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