As folks who read this blog know, while I have been blessed with the external success that comes with good dogs earning titles and ribbons, I am still struggling to get The Mominator's feet absolutely still while he is in a 'stay' (or when I walk up to flush a bird when he is on point).
I have been doing a little yardwork every day -- and sometimes he is a dream. Other times he will step as I walk up to him to pet him; other times, he will step because he thinks he's going to get a treat. Part of my general approach has been trying to minimize the negative pressure and, instead, upping the positive reward -- whether in the form of a biscuit treat or stroking his back. And I am embarrassed to say that this very-quickly learned behavior (of expecting a treat) drives me bats*&^t -- because he clearly understands what he was supposed to do, and is therefore trying to preempt his reward. This is a similar behavior to his creepy feet on point -- he wants to try and preempt the reward that comes from retrieving a bird. In the case of his recent yardwork, I am embarrassed to say that I have lost my temper -- it's not like I'm beating him, but I hate to raise my voice and I hate to see his anxiety come when I can't control my own frustration. And I know it is primarily a frustration with myself, for the inability to communicate that (ironically) all I want is for him to do nothing when he's stopped.
However, I have been trying to internalize some of the advice of legendary horseman, Ray Hunt, who sadly recently passed away. And so, following my line of trying to be honest about my mistakes in the hope that others might not make them, I share some of Ray's wisdom from his book Think Harmony With Horses (1978):
"When you ask your horse to do something it should be his idea... As you work with your horse, see how much of this is the horse's idea, or how much of it is your idea and if he is forced into it. If he's not forced into it, you'll see a great attitude. Your idea should become his idea, and when it does, then there will be no drag." (pp. 1-2)
"The way to do it is to work on yourself, to recognize and understand the situation... You make the wrong things difficult and the right things easy as you adjust to fit the situation. If the rider is alert and aware and in a learning frame of mind, the horse can be the same." (p. 2)
Ray outlines some great examples for how to put a horse in training 'in a bind' -- to make doing the wrong thing more difficult -- and then giving it an opening -- to make the right thing easy, as if it were the horse's own idea. The challenge, of course, is that standing still is not something that comes entirely naturally to either a domesticated prey (horse) or predator (dog) species. But reading Ray later in the book talking about anticipating a horse's move gives me some new ways to think about how to undo what is a minimally two-year learned behavior for The Mominator. For example, though, I realize that Momo loves to retrieve almost as much as he loves food -- and he knows that he can't break when a bird is thrown (or shot) out in front of him. So I have been making him stop and stand still for his dinner -- and, in an effort to reward his keeping his head faced forward even when I'm close to him, tossing a frozen quail from 2' behind him and making him stand to go get it.
And it reminds me that I need to be willing to learn -- arguably more so than to teach.