ClickerSolutions Training Treasures

A Shy Puppy

The interviewer, Darlene Arden, is a dog person--judge, breeder, and author of a book on toy dogs. She located the puppies, all eight to ten weeks old. I uncrated and test-drove each puppy beforehand, taking three or four clicks apiece. I selected the boldest and greediest of the two chihuahuas, who performed very well, learned (at 8 wks!) a sit and a high-five, and one or two other things. The older affie was FAR too exploratory to eat or socialize, just took off to investigate all of Border Books every time he was set down. Useless for my purposes. The 8 wk female Affie wouldn't come out of the crate, but she was very interested in my bits of chicken. So I shaped her out of the crate, explaining what I was doing, and then across the vast carpet a distance of a meter or so, to my hand, and then to Darlene's hand.

We each clicked her for heads up, and she got her nose off the floor. We clicked her for tails up, and she stopped crouching and began walking around in a lively way. I clicked her for eye contact--she was very non-social but glanced obliviously upward now and then and I caught that. On the third or fourth click for that she deliberately looked upward with her flat little face about the size of a silver dollar, and her own eyes the size of sesame seeds, and gazed into my eyes. She seemed to be thinking, "Oh! They have eyes! I'll be darned." I suspect we were just hands and feet and noises to her, before that, not Beings.

I felt like a giant, like Mt. Rushmore! But I clicked the gaze, and then she began to solicit eye contact, to play, to wag, to relish petting with her tail going a mile a minute, and to ask to get in my lap. (I was sitting on the floor crosslegged, but she was so small that she needed help to scale the foothills of my shinbones.) I finished off with her in my lap, showing how to desensitize paw handling, until she was slapping her tiny paw into my huge hand.

I go into this at some length, partly because it was a delightful experience, and one of those nice sessions where each click builds something new, there's no repetition it's just a straight flow of shaping. It's instructive; some people appear not to understand that shaping can and perhaps should work in a rapid escalation, like that, not in a drill of many many repetitions at each level.

Also, there was a story attached. After we were done taping, the breeder, also a very experienced dog show person, said to me, "Now I'll tell you what you had, there." And she told me. This was a singleton pup (no littermates to learn from, and one can suspect also a poorly lactating and thus inattentive mom.) At 4 1/2 weeks she had been stepped on accidentally and badly injured in the neck. She was in solitary confinement for the next two weeks. She was so inhibited, behaviorally undeveloped, and apparently shy that the breeder was seriously fearing that she would have to be put down.

Turns out there was a very nice little dog in there, who came out of her shell (and stayed out) in one clicker session. The breeder kept saying "Unbelievable! UnbeLIEVABLE." You may bet it made a believer of her, and she went home with the treats, my clip-on clicker which I gave her, and a Starter Kit. Happy ending. Clicker work does save lives, I know that, but it isn't often I get to do it personally!

Karen Pryor
copyright 2000 Karen Pryor

 

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