Sunday, June 6, 2010

Dog parks, longe lines, and dogs making choices

It's Sunday morning, and Ellie and I go for our Meditation Walk. She settles in quickly, curious about her world of walkers, runners, birds, and the sounds of barking at the dog park that lies to west, beyond the ball field and tennis courts.

She's happy, tongue lolling, eye soft. She stops to let people by, with a doggie smile and containing her exuberance to her wagging tail.

Today I've brought my longe line, which we use for horses. My plan is to give her plenty of line, so she can more freely pursue her interests, and I can reward her for attention to me, and we can practice her recall away from home, working on distance. Her recall, offline and in the house and yard, is nearly 100%. I've got a few kinks to work out here, as she took off after some birds, and got too hard of a jerk back to the ground, but in general I accomplished what I wanted to accomplish. Time for the dog park.

As we got closer to the park, I saw there were about 7 dogs. Some she knows, some I had not seen before. She was her usual excited self as we made our way to the gates. I let her in to the ante-area, took off the leash, and the dogs rushed up to greet her through the fence. Two of the dogs were quite assertive, and then the other dogs arrived. Rather than just take her in, I decided to wait this out, to see what Ellie's choice would be. We've noticed that she gets overwhelmed with more than a few dogs, and we've noticed that she is uncomfortable around very assertive dogs.

After sniffing fence, sniffing noses, and making eye contact, she went to the gate - the gate to the outside, and waited. Pretty clear. I snapped on her leash, and we walked quietly home.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Yoga Dog: It's a good job if you can get it

Ellie and I are exploring how yoga as a model for dog training works. The definition of yoga, from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, 1.2: Yogas citta vritti nirodha, interpreted as : Yoga is the ability to focus the mind on one thing without distraction. (Desikachar, Heart of Yoga).

In clicker training, we teach a dog a new behavior, and then work towards the dog being able to accomplish that behavior for duration, distance, and under distraction. So, it seems as if clicker training and the definition of yoga would work quite well together. (They do.)

But here's the thing, we humans are the ones who are always deciding what the distraction is. What if we question that assumption - that its all about us?

Today Ellie and I went out for our Meditation Walk. In Meditation Walk, I put away the clicker, I put away the treats, and I announce, "time for meditation". I hold the leash loosely (say that quickly 3 times) and in both hands, the leash in front of my body, balancing my hands to the leash. I take a long exhale, and we walk our variable pattern at the ball field, around the bleacher, around the bench for the disabled, changing direction periodically.

People come and go, we might stop, wait, and then start again. If she gets so interested in that dog, that runner, then I just stop and count my exhales. When she turns her attention back towards me, we begin our walk again. We do our meditation for about 15 minutes today, then I tell her, "Good dog." and I take her to the grass for some doggie sniff time.

Ellie actually seems to like Meditation Walk. The idea of the walk, for me, is to be out in the world, being in the world, at the same time that I am mindful of my breathing, the pressure of my feet against the ground, the balance of lightness and firmness in my connection to Ellie. I am aware of her actions, and part of Meditation Walk is to help her be as aware of my actions, without my having to tell her. Maybe she's more aware of me than I can tell, I suspect sometimes yes, sometimes not, her attention, like my own, drifting around at times, at other times, focusing, focused.

Today, she sniffed a single piece of grass for the space of 4 long breaths (mine) - which is just under a minute (when I'm deliberately breathing long). The definition of yoga, in the sniff of a single blade of grass. Who is teaching who?