Like I mentioned last week, Paco is the dog I am bringing through the Karen Pryor Academy with me. We will be learning together — he the cues, and I how to teach him the cues. He’s about seven months old and cute beyond words. I actually just met Paco recently. His family graciously agreed to let me use him as my KPA dog (seeing as I don’t have one and it is a requirement of the course, I needed to borrow one), and our training together kicked off.
The first day I met him we went for a walk and I tried to do some basic work with him. He did well on the walk, so I was excited for how much training we could do together — plus he was so cute!
The next couple times I went to work with him, I started doing more training. Unfortunately, I really put the pressure on. “You must learn sit RIGHT NOW, dog!” Of course I didn’t mean to be aversive about it (clicker training is supposed to be fun, after all), but I felt pressured to make sure we were ready for our first testing week, and it became clear pretty quickly that poor Paco was not enjoying himself. He would get frustrated and start to shut down during our sessions.
Paco loves interacting with people, so we spend a lot of time just playing. One day we also went on a nice long walk to Soapstone, a little gem of a trail tucked into the middle of Washington, D.C. Paco enjoyed playing in the water and taking in all the new sniffs. After that adventure, I brought him back to my house to meet my roommates. He loved meeting my roommates (and of course they loved meeting him), and soon he was fast asleep in my lap. I think that counted as some good bonding time. Overall it was relaxing and laid back – criteria I need to be sure to incorporate into our time together!
Now that he knows me a little better, our training sessions are improving. Just one week of working with Paco made me realize the importance of evaluating your own teaching. I was making learning aversive for Paco, and I needed to adjust the way I was communicating with him. If I hadn’t stopped and noticed what I was accidentally doing, we could have been headed for disaster.
I am thankful that I made this realization so early in the KPA course (and my career, too), because the next six months are likely to be very challenging for both Paco and me. We need to be able to find fun and enjoyment in every place we can, while we work hard. I have a feeling Paco and I will quickly adopt the “work hard, play hard” mentality. We all know how much a good game of tug can relieve stress.
Stay tuned to see how things with this course – and with Paco – are progressing!