Saturday, April 20, 2013

Find Brother

This week we started working on a new command - "Find Brother". Not only is Sunny's remaining eye rapidly losing its ability to see (inflammation and pain still completely controlled by 4 different types of eye drops for 11 drops a day plus 3 oral meds) but his sense of smell is failing in parallel. The cruelest fate for a dog. I thought he'd be ok without his eyes because his super nose would take up the slack. But, alas, no dice. I liken it to the human equivalent, which must be going blind and deaf at the same time. His ears are going to help him get around as much as my nose would if that were all I had.

So we start and end the day running into walls and planters and sister's agility equipment strewn about the yard. It's worse at night and in the brightest part of the day, so it seems that he can still see shapes. Those planters will be the first things to go as I start the new home improvement projects, as he seems to move towards them at a high rate of speed, resulting in little owies and lots of bad feelings amongst those of us charged with his care and safety. At night I have to take him out on a leash or he won't be able to find his way back.

Star's protective instincts haven't kicked in yet so I'm trying to use free-shaping to teach her to "Find Brother", thinking that she can go lead him in during the winter instead of me. Today was the second day I intentionally worked on the command and I just gotta share the laugh it generated.

In free-shaping, the object is to let the dog figure out what to do and then reward for actions that are in the desired direction. Dogs familiar with this method will start throwing all the things they know at you in hopes that they will hit on something that has resulted in a treat jackpot in the past. Star's favorites are bringing me a toy from the toy box and scrambling (laying down in a sphynx position and crawling fast backwards). Sunny prefers to sit in front of me and wave a front paw, hoping for a shake, which might also be a rake if it happens to catch my leg and leave a nice 4-claw scratch.

So picture this - me standing with a pocket full of treats. Star is alternating between scrambling and bringing me toys, and Sunny is sitting in front of me whacking that arm up and down. We've got a rhythm going. Star gets a toy, I take it and toss it behind my back but don't offer a treat. Sunny's arm reaches out and hits anything within reach. Contrary to true free-shaping, I am saying "Find Brother". (I'm supposed to wait until the action is figured out before assigning a name to it.) 

"Find Brother." Fetch. Whack. "Find Brother." Fetch. Whack. "Find Brother."

And all of a sudden it becomes ...

"Find Brother." Fetch. Sunny whacks Star on the head.
"Find Brother." Fetch. Sunny whacks Star on the head.
"Find Brother." Fetch. Sunny whacks Star on the head.

Come on Star - figure it out. He's giving you a pretty huge clue!