Friday, August 31, 2012

"Little And Often" - A Training Strategy

Opened a fortune cookie last evening and it said:

"Little and often makes much."

I thought so highly of it, I taped it to the backboard over my stove where I've collected several others and read them once in awhile. It is more of a truism than a "fortune", as so many fortune cookies are these days if they make any sense at all, but I got this one just at the right time, dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Isaac.  I live in Baton Rouge.

We were fortunate--sustaining no damage, no lost trees, no loss of power, and no flooding, as many others did.  But looking out over my 2.5 acres, it is a sea of broken limbs and twigs which John and I have to pick up.  Yesterday in an effort to clear off the driveway first, we filled John's truck with debris, which pooped us both out, but it only cleared about 1/8th of the driveway.  We have a long ways to go.

These days, I can clean one drawer of my refrigerator at a time, but not the whole thing.  I can state my point once, then I don't care to repeat myself or argue.  My stamina isn't what it once was.  But the hard push, I've learned, is not usually essential.  We keep up with our chores, bit by bit.  "Can't watch another Netflix episode until we've each done a chore" is pretty effective.

An great example of "little and often makes much", managing my azeleas.  I live on 2.5 acres.  My house is set towards the back of a deep rectangle, and our long driveway is lined with 22 huge 50+ year old azelea bushes, so strong and verile they can hardly be beaten down.  Many years ago I hired a team of vigorous young Mexicans to chain saw them down to little stumps over a 12 day peroid and several hundred dollars, and 2 years later they were back, vigorous, bushy, beautiful, and in full bloom.  I called a plant nursery to see if they wanted to dig some of them up for free, maybe for an instant landscape on a plantation.  They didn't want them, but didn't want to kill them.  So I'm stuck with them.  I haven't the means to dig them up, but I can't let them choke out my driveway.

So, years back, I formulated a plan.  Every day when I walked up to the road to get the mail,  I'd break off the 3 or 4 branches hanging out most prominently over the driveway, and carry them up to the front ditch for city pickup.  20 or so branches a week got trimmed back this way.  I hardly noticed the effort, but within 3 months the bushes were trimmed back perfectly.  WOW!  My husband gets the mail now, and I've just about got him trained to do the same.  He still sometimes gets on the idealic track of us taking a long weekend to "get the whole job done", but we tried it a few years back and managed to whack back 4 bushes in a day before exhaustion set in. Then life intervened and we never got back to it.

How This Apples to Dog Training:

Systematically hammering my dogs with perfect sit/stays, reliable recalls, tight turns, perfect weaves over and over, etc., shuts me down. Them too. BUT, by applying the "little and often" principle, we make significant progress.  I've learned to make a training session out of just about every little repetitive thing we do.

  • 5 dogs chomping at the bit to go outside can be a dangerous stampede without a "sit/stay wait until your name is called" routine. 
  • Coming inside, a great time to reward the fastest recalls. 
  • Twice daily feedings, perfect checkpoint for requiring a sit/stay, down, back, wait for my name to be called for release". 
  • Loading up in the car upon name call, another checkpoint. 
  • Grooming sessions, great for developing long patience and taking turns.  
  • Requiring a "sit" before putting on or taking off a leash.
  • Prance thru the laddar over there by the fence, sometimes gets me a click and a treat.
  • Go out in the yard, take the tire, come back for a treat.
  • Back up on command and I may throw a treat.
Little exercises, repeated often, make a world of difference in developing anticipation, focus, awareness, impulse control, coordination, attentiveness to my voice commands and body language.  Some of them only take seconds to accomplish, and many are attached to activities we have to do anyway.

The most important change I had to make to accomplish this "little and often" training strategy was to my wardrobe -- either a shirt, pants or dress must have a pocket with treats in it!  On every table where I tend to sit is a little jar of dry treats, and a clicker.  My dogs will do anything for me for a cheerio.  They will offer behaviors in anticipation I might click, including turning their back to me, which I consider quite sophisticated on their part.

L to R:  Maxie, Pepper, Willow
being good in hopes for a morsel of my sandwich.
Pepper is staring at me, Willow is averting her head, but not her eyes,
and Maxie is totally relaxed and confident he'll get his
treat in due time if he leaves me alone.
One of our oft-repeated daily "impluse control" exercises is when I sit on the couch watching TV, with a plate of food in my lap.  Nobody is allowed to approach me, wiggle around, bark or beg.  All are trained to lie down and "avert their eyes".  They have to be looking away from me while I eat.  I arrange several wee bits of something from my meal on one edge of my plate -- a few butter beans, bits of potato skin, grissle from my pot roast or chicken, a crust of bread, etc.  The light or wet items, I deliver by hand.  The larger heavier drier items (apple or carrot bites), I can toss several feet away to the big dogs on the floor, so now they don't feel the need to crowd at my feet.  Randomly, as I see perfect behavior, I surprise one of them with a morsel.  It amazes me how calm they all become hoping I'll notice their exemplary behavior.  And of course, I DO NOTICE.

I've gradually sophisticated this process to the point where Maxie and Lucky understand they can't even have their ears cocked in my direction.  They have to behave as though they aren't the slightest bit interested in my food.  Willow and Fooh Fooh, who were never properly trained as youngsters, still can't manage that.  Pepper, at 10 months, has become better at waiting patiently, but is still learning to avert his eyes.  He does it sometimes.

"Little and often" eventually translates into some fairly well trained dogs if you start them early enough and keep at it consistently enough, and it requires neither expense nor exhausting effort.  It also applies to a well trained ME, able to step myself calmly through huge tasks. 

The right side of my Puppy Training Yard, big
branches already cleared out.
Okay, back to raking twigs for awhile.  I'll start with the puppy training yard today, which shouldn't take more than an hour.  Rain clouds are gathering, though, so I'd better hurry.

This afternoon maybe I'll tackle another segment of the driveway.

Tomorrow John may go up on the roof to throw down limbs and sweep off twigs, which I will then rake up and take by the wheelbarrowful up to the front ditch.

Preschool lyric going through my head right now:  "Inch by inch, row by row, we're going to make this garden grow . . . " great little song (lyrics below) that has inspired me for many years to be realistic and patient as I work on long projects.

John, that wee white speck at upper center, raking piles.
Up closer you can see the amount of twigs we're dealing with
now that the larger branches have been cleared.
Meanwhile, John is out raking the labyrinth, getting it ready for the odd visitor who may turn up for a meditative walk after the storm.  Not too hard, just tedious repetitive work, of a kind that is going to stretch out for days. I thank God every day for sending me such a devoted and healthy husband who enjoys working out in the yard!

Upwards and onward!
Lyrics to Garden Song :
Inch by inch, row by row,
Gonna make this garden grow.
Gonna mulch it deep and low,
Gonna make it fertile ground.
Inch by inch, row by row,
Please bless these seeds I sow.
Please keep them safe below
'Til the rain comes tumbling down.


1 comment:

Rose said...

I enjoyed your post. Very good advice.