She is doing really well. Getting so mature and calm (sometimes). The last two weeks of training have been interesting.
All of the dogs are learning a new command, "Go to bed". It has three parts -- go to the bed, lay down, and stay there until released. The idea is that this will be a very useful command for a blind person so that, for example, if someone comes to the door they can give the command and the dog won't be in the way greeting the new person at the door, etc. Traditionally, this would be trained by giving the command (Go to bed), putting them on the bed, making them lay down, telling them to stay, then correcting them if they sat up or moved off the bed...and praising them if they did right. They wanted us to implement a new training technique for this command, called "operative training". It is really a very foreign concept, and apparently is very hard for people with a lot of dog training experience to do because you don't get to correct the dog and show them what you want.
Long-story short, this is how it works. You put out a bath mat or some other special rug, blanket, etc -- this is the "bed". When the dog just happens to walk on the rug, you say "nice" and give them a kibble. If the dog stays on the rug, you say "nice" and give them a kibble. Pretty soon, the dog realizes that magical things happen when you are standing on the rug, so they will return to the rug in hopes of a reward, which you give. Once they reason this out (if I go stand on the rug I get a kibble, and if I stay there I get more), then the rules change to be that they have to "sit" on the rug, and then eventually lay "down" on the rug - but you don't ever give them those commands verbally. Honeydew was one of the "demonstration puppies" in class that night. I was just sure she was going to fail miserably, because she is so distracted and high energy - she is in a big gym, surrounded by people and dogs - a very high energy situation for her. But, once she got wind of the game and figured out she needed to be on that rug, it was amazing to watch her reason things out. She figured it out after about 8 kibbles! Then, when the rules changed (have to sit on the rug, not just stand), it was amazing to watch her face as she offered the trainer other things....it was like she was saying "Hey lady, I am standing on the rug, give me a kibble. Ok, that isn't working, what if I spin in a circle? What if I jump? What if I sit? Oh, if I sit I get a kibble!". Each time Honeydew would do a little dance of different positions or tricks on the rug, but eventually she figured out the magical formula was to sit on the rug...and then she did the same thought process (offering various tricks and positions) when the rules changed to laying down on the rug. At one point Honeydew forgot the rug part and just sat in front of the trainer. She had a look on her face like "Hey, I'm sitting, where is my kibble?"...but again, she reasoned it out and you could see a little light go on "Oh yeah, I have to be sitting on that rug thing"...so, she literally stayed sitting, but bunny hopped (butt bumped?) the 4-feet across the floor to the rug. It was hysterical.
Only after the dogs fully understand that going to the rug, laying down, and staying there is the right behavior that gets the kibble, do you start naming the command. So now, at home, Honeydew understands that if she does those three things she gets a kibble, and now I am starting to tell her to "go to bed" and she is understanding that the command is the name of that series of actions I want her to do. The amazing thing is that at no point during the training do I touch her, position her, correct her or give her a verbal or visual command (sit, down, stay). It is all about her ability to figure out what I want her to do based on when she gets a reward (the word "nice", followed by a kibble). It is the same technique used for "clicker training", but instead of the click they hear the word "nice". Of all of the training we have done, this has been the most fun because you can see her actually using her brain and thinking/reasoning things out. She is so interested in the activity and gives me her complete attention (which is rare!). At this point, the only commands she gets kibble for are this one and "come" - which has proven to be a good approach because you can bet that she is always going to want to do those commands, even when there is an exciting distraction (like someone coming to the door).
At last night's class, I had to do everything blind-folded. It was SOOO HARD! It was really fascinating though. For example, we have always been told that when doing the recall ("come"), that the dog needs to come all the way up to your legs and you have to grab their collar before giving them their kibble reward. Well, after a while you forget some of those details -- they get close enough, you reach out to them to grab their collar, etc. Well, when you do it blind-folded you realize that if you reach down and the dog isn't there because they stopped a foot or two away, that you can't find them. Honeydew stopped short, so I just ended up feeling through the air at my knees, never feeling or finding her. I am sure I looked like a complete idiot. She did what I asked her to do (she "came"), but I hadn't been doing a good job of making her she came right up to my legs. I never realized how important that last foot of space was because I could always see her and bend over to grab her and pull her closer. It was also really difficult to figure out what she was doing on the end of the leash -- was she eating something off the floor? messing with one of the other dogs? smelling the hands or legs of the person next to me? etc. At one point she got tangled up with the puppy behind us and it was so hard to figure out what had happened and to get them untangled. It was hard to figure out if she was doing something wrong, and if she was, it was hard to figure out how to correct her, etc. We spent the entire two hours blind-folded, going through our exercises, etc. Glenn was there. He somehow got out of having to wear the blindfold! He did a good job of helping to make sure that I didn't run into anything (which we all know, I am prone to do, even when my eyes are open!).
Lastly, Cole, the guide puppy we watched a month ago (Honeydew went to live with Cole's family, Cole came to live with us) was recently career changed. That makes two of the four puppies that Honeydew came in with that haven't made it so far. Ughh! The pressure. Cole was a super sweet dog, and I think the raising family might adopt her as a pet. In the end, she just wasn't that excited about working for a living - and as she got older she was less responsive to commands, etc. She will make a wonderful and sweet pet. So, who knows what the future holds for Honeydew. They say you can never predict if a dog is going to make it or not. There was one dog in our club that was completely out of control, a total spaz. That dog has just made it to the final training phase and will likely get paired with a blind person soon. Who knew! We continue to believe that Honeydew is destined for great things. :)