24 June 2010

Awaiting a cosmic transmission from the mother ship that will deliver an important message, if you can listen long enough.

Team Small Dog has not had a very rigorous training schedule this month. Mostly, they have been working on their therapy dog skills which include do not launch, like drunk guys at a Pearl Jam show, bodies onto the guy that just had back surgery. Agility practice has nearly gone by the wayside, because that's how it works out for right now. Gustavo's poor running dogwalk contacts remain suspended in time, and will be ready for us when we're all ready.

Because their therapy skills, excluding the launch pad thing, are so good, their patient thought it would be ok if they left him long enough for a quick trip up to the forest in the evening. Dirt Nite is on a hiatus, and the daylight is long. We haven't been spending enough time in the forest, so we left the patient in front of baseball tv and headed up to the redwoods.

Most of the time in the summer, I walk them in the swimming hole forest on the way home from work. It's always hot and they can run to the swimming hole and swim after sticks. We rarely go up to the forest closest to my house in the evening. The dinnertime coyotes in there are brave and hungry looking. But it's hard to resist, when no one's had a good walk in a while, and the light gives us enough time to walk past the tiny waterfall to the spring box.

I have been trying to ask more from Gustavo. I think that I work less hard at training him because in so many ways, training Gustavo breaks my heart. Makes me feel like a failure as a dog trainer, and just letting him be the way he is has that soothing shoving one's head into a sand hole with eyes shut tight approach. But broken heart or not, we have been working on little things. Teensy, tiny, baby things, with rapid reinforcement to try to bring him back to the planet that I live on with Otterpop and Ruby.

Us 3 came to live on that same planet because of millions of hours of hard work. I was worried they would bite people. I worked hard and they turned into good dogs. Ruby is a saint of a trustworthy citizen, and waving a stick in front of Otterpop sends her into an obsessive frenzy to do whatever I'm asking of her.

Us 3 live on a planet of bad dogs turned good, but then where does that leave Gustavo? We're all a team after all, and one for all, all for one.

Gustavo, his eyes just roll around in his head and we're all on Mars and he was on Venus hours ago.

Tonight, I brought some treats up with me, and decided that in the forest, he had to maintain eye contact with me. That was it. All I was asking. The other dogs, FREAKING OUT of the unbelievable luck and joy that there were pocket treats in the forest. Dancing on stumps, inventing weird tricks, oh the amazing, laser like focus. Trying so hard. Overachievers.

Gustavo, all he had to do was look at me. And be able to do it again. Just getting him to enjoy tasty morsels in the forest, a trick in itself. To just turn his head, for half a second and look up into my eyes. I'm not asking for much here. Back to the baby-est of baby steps. Rapid reinforcement for the teensiest little sidelong glances. I was trying hard. He could earn his time off his long rope. It would be so easy. I ask for so little.

He has this weird way he shoves his ears together high up on his skull when his brain has gone. He does it in the forest, when he chases birds down the beach, or when he's scared like the other night when there were gunshots on our street. Sometimes he does it when he has a stare fest at a spot on the rug, ears shoved together tight and pointing at the heavens. I guess he hears the aliens better, or at least is waiting for transmission from the mother ship.

I didn't get much eye contact. He didn't get much freedom. When we got home, he lay on my lap when I typed this up on the computer, in a soft little ball. I wouldn't trade him for anything. And maybe the transmission that he's been waiting for all this time is really meant for me. Something about how you just don't give up.


arooarooo said...

Really cool post. Question - Have you tried clicker training with Gooey? If not, I would charge a clicker and see how he reacts to it in less distracting environments clicking and rewarding simple stuff first, then working your way to the forests and beaches. For some dogs, just hearing the click becomes rewarding and an incentive to keep trying behaviors that earn clicks. Once you are reliably getting the behaviors you want, you can begin fading the clicker and going back to your usual marker(s).

tundrah said...

I know the broken heart feeling well. But I also know that _you_ know when they do something really, really right, that its the most awesome and amazing and special moment in the world.

Like Forest ignoring me for the first three classes of our trial over the weekend, then putting in a perfect run--while helicopters flew right over us. Seriously? WTF??? And yet sublime at the same time.

Maybe he's waiting for the same transmissions as Gustavo...

team small dog said...

He is highly clicker trained. BUT. When he goes into the lost connection with mothership mode, he becomes sound sensitive and FREAKS OUT about the clicker sound. When he's focused and normal and not out of his head, you can use a clicker with him. Because of this, over the years, I've pretty much stopped using a clicker with him, a little bit for teaching tricks but it's one of those weirdo things about Gustavo.

Alaska said...

You are not alone. All those feelings you describe? Other people have them too.

That is all.

Amy Carlson said...

Alaska's right.......you are not alone.......sister.