CHAI’S DISTRACTION RECALL TRAINING – going rouge again! ROUND 2.3: level 3 (off leash), unprotected kibble at the park … followed by a (genius, I know) helper-fading training plan!

(Still) July 1, 2023

Well, well, well. No, I have still not printed my distraction tracker. No, I do not practice what I preach and keep my 3 environments the same at all 3 levels (level 1: long line; level 2: barrier/helper; level 3: off leash). I was aware of the latter but thought Chai could do it anyways. I was NOT aware of skipping yet another 6 steps, which is both wild and wildly amusing.

Future me chiming in from bird eye’s view:

Check marks are for the achievements Chai has unlocked, strike-through text for the steps I am skipping and the green arrow for what I’m trying on July 1st’s first park session below:

I’m about to skip 6 steps!

July 1, 2023 – off leash unprotected kibble distraction at the first park we already failed at.

Our most difficult distraction, and I just go for it! Watch me crash and burn entertain you and Chai, smart and pragmatic as always, enjoy her pre-recall kibble snack! Who knows where my brain cells are off to. Well, I know where they are off to but seriously – I’d expect to be able to keep all things recall straight anyways! Instead, I’m being hilarious these days. (Nobody’s perfect, dog trainers are just as human as everyone else etc. – I’m sharing this because some students are intimidated by professional trainers when really, there’s no reason to. If your trainer only shows you perfect sessions, that’s not because they only have perfect sessions but because they only show you those. I promise! Our humanness never goes away, no matter how long we’ve been in the field. We all have days where other things are at the forefront of our minds – no matter how much we love our dogs and their training! Personally, I think that’s a good thing. It keeps us humble and it makes for good laughs! So here you go!)

What do you think my rogue self did next? Nope, I didn’t go back to practice unprotected distractions in the house and on the roof. Instead, I got my helper to help and stuck with this very same distraction in this very same location:

Off leash kibble recalls at the park with a human helper (level 2 – barrier/helper)

Here are the next few sessions/reps Zane and I did. In the video below, Chai does exactly what I expected her to do: because she got the kibble in the previous session, she tries again:

We repeat the same set-up. I thought Chai would try again – but no: this puppy learns FAST and has already made the connection that Zane’s presence means there is no point in trying to get the kibble right away! Smart and pragmatic is a dangerous (and dangerously fun) combination!

Chai does well when Zane squats near the kibble plate

This gives me an idea about how to proceed: what if I gradually faded my helper rather than going from recalls with a helper right to recalls without one?

Fading my distraction recall helper at the off-leash kibble stage at the park: 1st step

NICE! Next, I’ll ask Zane to squat just a little further from the kibble …

Fading my helper: 2nd step

Superpuppy! Now I’ll ask Zane to stay at the same distance, but stand up rather than squatting. Gradually changing the picture for Chai …

Fading my helper: Zane stands up

Go Chai! Upwards and onwards: let’s ask Zane to move further back still …

Fading my helper: Zane moves further away from the kibble

Most excellent puppy! (See what Chai is doing here? She is building my trust back up at the same rate that I’m fading my helper. “Patience, grasshopper,” she tells herself. “You’ve got this. You’ll be eating out of your human’s hand again in no time!” This puppy has a master plan!)1

Fading the helper: Zane moves back EVEN further!

Unfortunately, Chai running towards the distraction is out of frame … but you can see her response! Go puppy!

Zane moves further back still – and we need to end the session due to an incessantly barking Dachshund

It’s a shame we had to end here – I would have loved to fade Zane all the way off the stage space and then try again without a helper in this location. Alas – not today! Zane was relieved from his helper duties and I, riding the wave of success, kept going in a bark-free spot of the same park against better knowledge.

No helper – empty plate. Same park, different spot.

Zane headed back to the apartment and I went to a different spot in the park, far from the barky Dachshund. My goal was still to work up to unprotected kibble recalls. I rounded up enough brain cells to start over with an empty plate in the new location: I didn’t want to make both criteria harder at once (new location AND no helper who might pick up the plate). Even though Chai had worked hard to re-build my trust, I wasn’t quite there yet … and as it turns out, that was wise:

Have I mentioned this puppy is whip smart? She knew Zane was gone, saw a plate and would have gone for it. A moment after my recall she realized the plate was empty and turned around to come back to me. I repeated the empty-plate recall in this second location one more time:

After this rep, I made the smart decision to end for the day. Back to the drawing board! I need to think about how to outsmart my puppy … And it’s finally dawning on me that I skipped steps! (It’s humbling to be a student of your own recall protocol and realize that you, too, very much need to print it out or become a person who checks things off digitally.)

Chai had shown me that she was not going to recall away from unprotected kibble in the park at this point! Her motto: “If you see something you might be able to eat – eat it!”

Back to the drawing board I go … let’s see what I’ll cook up next!

  1. I know, of course, that dogs don’t have master plans. If you know me, you’ll know that. But in case you just stumbled across my blog and started reading here, I’m pointing out that this is a joke. ↩︎

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