15 June 2008

Regular Retrieve Practice

Molly has a good solid retrieve, but we want to keep it that way. So I keep a collection of items for retrieve practice and make sure she gets lots of treats and praise for the good work.

To make it more like her actual job, I don't use the clicker. I just ask her to pick up items one at a time (usually I only have one item on the floor at a time). When she delivers them to me, she gets praise and a treat. She regularly gets breaks with petting and attention. I try to make it as real as possible, because when I'm somewhere and I've dropped something important, I usually don't have the clicker on me and often don't have a treat. So it is important that she is excited about her job (but not so much that she gets noisy) and is happy working for praise and attention.

As you can see from the picture, our practice bin includes some pretty small items, like a match box and a small piece of paper. We've had them in the bin for ages and she is able to retrieve them without getting them wet or making holes in them.

Another good item is the yellow duck squeak toy. Someone on one of the mailing lists recommended I train with a squeak toy when I was having trouble teaching Molly not to chew items and it works GREAT! From that training and regular practice, she remembers to handle items gently and take them up carefully. If the toy squeaks, I treat it like a hurt animal and comfort it and put it aside for awhile. That little trick worked wonders int he progress of her retrieve training.

The bit of fabric is an old sleeve from a t-shirt. As well as being great as an item in itself, it is also useful when working on training Molly for quiet clothing removal. I can throw it and focus on quiet retrieves then hang it off my feet or hands. Then it can slide around my arms and legs. To make it difficult to remove, I wrap it a few times around a foot or hand. Molly loves the challenge and has learned that way to be more quiet with clothing. She still isn't 100%, but that's what practice is for. I can also alternate the sleeve with a real sock or pants or whatever to remind her that she is capable of being quiet.

For give, we regularly practice varying the person to whom she should deliver the item. This way she is used to giving things to DH and taking things from DH and giving them to me. She can take items both from the floor and from our hands.

We did a fun practice session the other day when DH sat in the kitchen and I sat in the living room. I gave Molly an item and told her to give it to DH. She took it out and gave it to him, got a reward (her second item was a pill bottle filled with treats), and came back with something else. We swapped all sorts of things, including a fly swatter, wire cutters, sun glasses, and a hard plastic egg the size of a dove egg. Unfortunately she loved that game so much that she chewed a little on the old credit card for the first time ever. We'd also been training with it for months. But the sunglasses went back and forth without damage.

Molly is also our little messenger. Because she is so careful with paper, we can safely write notes and hand them to her. She carries them in her mouth to the other and will find us in different rooms over the entire house.

When out, we also try to teach Molly other people, so she is learning to deliver to someone I point to and to my in-laws by name. I'm also slowly adding item recognition for a number of items. She is already about 75% accurate on pants, socks, and shoes. Not a particular item, such as matching shoes, but in selecting items that belong in the requested category. I often have pants and socks in one place and she is definitely able to distinguish those most of the time.

I really want her to learn to ID my crutches, but it is a matter of training time that I have not yet invested. I'd like her to be able to fetch a crutch at a distance or in another room and give it to me. It would be great if she could search them out on her own. If I'm having a mobile spell, I tend to forget where they are or DH moves them somewhere out of the way. Then I suddenly need them and have trouble getting around well enough to find them.

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