Sunday, August 6, 2017

What Is That Creature?

This calls for a serious drink of water

A few days ago, SSD Scarab encountered a really weird creature as we were returning to the office from a walk. As we walking down the alley, Scarab came across a human! So weird!

And he barked at the weird creature.

Granted, this particular human was sitting on the curb, taking a smoke break. When I think about it, this might be the first time Scarab has ever seen a person sitting on the curb in that alley. And when you're a 4-month-old puppy, a human sitting on the curb where you would least expect it is weird.

Now, Scarab is a really good puppy. He's very calm and usually takes things in stride. He also has excellent attention on me. Since I got him, we've been working on looking at me whenever there are distractions in his environment. He's gotten really good at it. When he sees something he thinks is interesting, he'll look at it, but then look right back at me. If it's really interesting, I might have to say his name, but then he'll look at me.

So when we encountered this really weird creature, I immediately tried to get Scarab's attention. Like the good puppy he is, he looked right at me. I clicked and gave him his treat. However, as soon as we started walking back toward the strange creature, he stopped and barked. I got his attention again and we started moving forward. Of course, he barked again.

At this point, I realized I had some decisions to make. If we continued on our current course, we would need to walk right past the weird creature. Scarab had already clearly told me that he's going to bark the closer we get. All he would learn in that situation is to bark at things he doesn't understand.

Option 2 was to turn around and go back the way we came. There were other ways to return to the office that didn't involve walking past the weird creature. If Scarab had been so worked up that he was beyond thinking, I probably would have chosen this option.

But Scarab was still capable of thinking. He was still turning back to me immediately after I said his name. It was only when we walked toward the creature that he barked.

So I chose option 3--show him that the weird creature is, in fact, a human.

Now, I should clarify that the man sitting on the curb is someone who works in the neighboring building. I've talked to him before, so he was not a complete stranger. I also asked him if he would be okay if I brought Scarab over to see him. So I wasn't just taking my dog over to a random person in an alley.

I also didn't just walk Scarab right over there since he would bark as we got closer. I wanted a nice calm dog, so instead, we turned around and walked back to what Scarab deemed the "safe zone." This was the distance from the weird creature where Scarab decided he could see him but didn't need to bark at him.

At this point, I simply clicked and treated Scarab for looking at the weird creature but not barking. After about 5-6 clicks and treats, Scarab just sat and looked at me, so we took a step forward. He again looked at the weird creature and I clicked him for looking but not barking. We did this for the next few steps, and then he was able to walk calmly next to me on a loose leash--with lots of clicks and treats--all the way to the weird creature.

Normally, puppy raisers aren't supposed to let their dogs just go up to people to say hello, but since Scarab had been a little fearful, I let him sniff and investigate so he'd know there's nothing to worry about.

And guess what? Scarab's little tail started wagging and then his whole body started wiggling and while he was being petted he turned to me as if to say, "Hey! Hey, did you know this thing is really a human! Who knew? This is awesome!"

I could have taken Scarab inside after that, but I wanted to really capitalize on this learning experience for him. I thanked the man and told him Scarab and I were going to go back the way we came and walk past him again, but this time we weren't going to stop.

I took Scarab back to that original safe distance and we started walking toward the man again. Scarab stayed right next to me on a loose leash and barely even glanced at the man as we walked by him. Success!

I hope this experience helps Scarab learn that people are still people, even when they're sitting on the curb.

Go away, It's naptime. 

Puppy stole old man Fire's bed

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