Being open, observant, and creative when training is so important. So important. But even so, every once in a while, a puppy will come along and teach me a new way of looking at something, and I get to see life through new eyes. I don’t think there is anything more refreshing than being ‘schooled’ by a puppy! It keeps me very honest.
So, we were teaching ‘touch’ in my tricks workshop. Blue ‘X’ on hand, ball, wall, door, floor, etc. Generalizing touch, and using it for various applications. All of the dogs were having fun finding the blue X’s, touch + YES = reward… Woop! fun, fun, fun.
Little Riffle, a six month old Portuguese Water Dog, who has been through a variety of our classes and is really fun to work, touched a few times, and then lay down to watch the other dogs. If I could have set a bucket of popcorn and soda next to her, it would have truly been like she was at the movies, 3D glasses would have made it complete! She enjoyed watching the other dogs more than working, or perhaps that was her work?! She wasn’t casually glancing, she was taking note, and watching carefully.
When we were ready to take a break, she went around and started ripping/peeling everyone’s X’s off the wall, off the ball, and off the doors. Systematically. Peel it off, drop it, move on to the next. She had taken note of where each one was. I watched.
This little trickster had seen something totally different in this ‘trick’ than what we were seeing and practicing. My definition/criteria for this trick was, nose on X with a bit of pressure. That was not hers. I still wonder if she didn’t just take pity on the other dogs for getting this ‘touch trick’ wrong, and went around to show then the ‘right way’, duh?!
We saw this, an X on a door with blue painters tape -
Little Riffle saw this -
I was inspired to see where we could take this trick, morph it, and put it on cue. Her owner was at first a bit frustrated that she wasn’t ‘touching’, but quickly said, “yes, let’s try something new with this tape trick”.
So we went into my office and lined the wall with strips of painters tape, and tipped or rather peeled back a bit of the edge -
This is her first go with this new trick, PEEL. Keep in mind, her first go at it! She ended up doing five full rows in about a 10 minute period. And each repetition became more and more accurate.
This young puppy had such amazing persistence and perseverance for this game, or rather, new trick.
But I think what we all learned was, sometimes what we see and ask, is not what the puppy see’s and hears, at all. If there is no openness to change things up on the teaching end, then conflict and frustration can set in. There needs to be a mutual starting point. Sometimes we have to come at it together, start from a new angle, morph things a bit so learning can happen. And in turn, the relationship grows, because it’s being done together!
Will this trick ever be applicable? Who knows, maybe opening presents and Christmas boxes for a commercial or movie, it would make a great trick. But maybe it is a trick for tricks sake. Building vocabulary, building a behavior, becoming a better teacher, creating a learner.
So here is to creative thinking, always learning, and trickster puppies!