Sunday, 26 January 2014

Lazy train

It's a fact that Caesar is trainable.  Highly trainable in my opinion.  Perhaps it is the silver lining in a cloud of destruction and naughtiness.  It is, at the very least, a redeeming quality.  I might even go as far as to say, it is this quality that convinced me not to take him back to the rescue centre after a weeks trial during which my house was partly destroyed, my sleep was hugely disturbed and my hair was very much torn out.  His trainability persuaded me that maybe there was something I could do.

And, although some of his problems have still not been solved, I'm now comfortable with giving him commands and, in return for treats, ninety-nine percent of the time, he will follow them.  Without too much hastle, he's mastered:
Sit
Leave it

And a few others...


The problem is, though, that no matter how many tricks I teach Caesar in the house, he's still a nightmare when we go for a walk!  As soon as we leave the building, everything he knows disappears into a huge cloud of ridiculous behaviour.  His good manners and knowing to walk 'after me' in narrow spaces/on steps desert him, his 'leave it' command goes out of the window and, in general, he turns into a demon dog.

 This was the reason that, two years ago, I decided to put a lot of effort into training him to walk nicely on a lead.  There's nothing worse than seeing a large spotty mongrel coming towards you making a plethora of odd-ball noises and choking itself at the same time.  And, when we first got Caesar I was mortified to see that people actually looked quite worried about passing us in the street and, at times, ended up crossing the road altogether.  And, in hind-sight, quite rightly so; before getting Caesar, I may have done exactly the same.

The thing is, though, that I know that Caesar means nothing by his noises.  What he's saying is "Oh my goodness; this is so absolutely exciting and nerve racking!  Let me get to it and see what it is!" More often than not, the noise and excitement inducing object is another animal, usually a dog.  However, people are less aware of other dogs because of the nuisance Caesar is making of himself and often assume that his insanity is somehow aimed towards them.  However, in all my time of owning Caesar, I have never once seen him become unnerved the presence of people.  On walks, there are no people to Caesar, only other animals.

Anyway, I digress.  Let's skip back to the on lead behaviour training that I was attempting two years ago.  Unlike in-house training, lead training showed very little progress and, while Caesar had moved from sitting to lying to spinning and waving at home, he still couldn't grasp the simple equation that 'loose lead = treat' outside.  It was infuriating!  And, I'm ashamed to say, it wasn't long enough before I stuck a headcollar on Caesar in the hope that this would solve the problem.

Don't get me wrong, the Dogmatic headcollar that Caesar wears on each and every walk was heaven sent!  And, it's hugely important for us because Caesar can sometimes lunge towards other dogs.  And, having 20kg of muscle pulling against a lead can almost be joint dislocating at times.  Having control of him at these mad-dog moments is vital and the headcollar has ensured that this will always be the case.  

Despite reducing the strength behind him, Caesar continues to pull, even against his headcollar.  For the most part, it has been a matter of managing the amount in a battle of woman vs. dog.  And I have learnt to do this by:
a) swapping sides with the lead so that he doesn't get used to pulling on one side.
b) giving an occasional tug to remind him that he's at the end of his line.
c) Telling him off!

It's not that I don't realise the value of positive reinforcement, I do.  I would love to praise Caesar for not pulling but it simply didn't happen so I had to resort to C pretty quickly if I wanted to get anywhere at all on a walk.

I'm ashamed to say, though, that, although our walks were much more entertaining as a result of my ignorning Caesar's insistent pulling, I was being lazy.  We all know that time and effort pay off and, starting up on the heel work after two years has been tough going!  I'm pleased to report, though, that he responded pretty well; especially when I brought out some extra stinky treats (best put my coat in the wash later).  It was a matter of stopping quite often and a lot of silly-voice praise "you GOOOD boy" in the middle of the street.  But, I'm pleased to report that I saw, somewhere in the distance, a speck of hope!  Perhaps one day, I will have a dog who walks with me rather than drags me around.  Perhaps....