Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Dog Diaries

You might think that a dog's life is rather uncomplicated, but that would be a mistake.  A dog's life is incredibly complicated due in large part to their tendency to 'live in the moment' or in other words 'forget about almost everything that happened yesterday'.  This means that each day is a glorious new day of discovery unencumbered by such things a 'learning from one's past mistakes'.

So the things you learned yesterday are new and ready for you to learn them again today.  Every day is an adventure with this framework and my dogs live their adventurous life to the fullest.  I on the other hand, watching their antics 'get' the whole 'memory' thing and am often driven to distraction with my little canine duo's exploits.

Take for example this scenario:

You want to go outside and your human has every intention of letting you outside as indicated by their body language, their actual language ("Let's go outside") and the fact that they are making a bee line for the back door.  You indicate your comprehension of this impending outside-ness by 1) running back and forth between the back door and the human in ever increasingly small sprints because they are getting closer and closer to the door, 2) jumping up on your human in such a way you actually push them back from the door they are trying to reach, 3) positioning yourself in the way of the backdoor and spinning, spinning, spinning so that your feet slap against the top of the washer and then against the back door and potentially the human who is trying to reach the back door, 4) ignoring every command to sit, quiet, back as you increase your frenzied attempts to go out through the closed door, and 5) cramming your body so tightly against the back door that it is almost impossible for your human to actually open the door.

One might think that in your roughly 13 months of being let out that door without any resistance would register on your brain as an event that was 'going to happen' so you need not act like a frenzied gopher doped up on caffeine.  But apparently, this is one of 'those' times you are 'in the moment' and unable to actually make long term memories.

It isn't just the Border Collie who has the short/long term memory deficiencies.  The Westie has had a full 8 years of counseling that consistently reminds him to not 'chase the cat'.  He gets reminded of this prior to each and every time he goes out the back door.  I say "Lewey, No CAT!" in my most booming and top dog voice.  He looks at me like "Yeah, right, I know, I know,  'No cat' - I get it".  Then, each and every time he goes out he seeks to 'chase the cat'.  I often am following him out and grabbing him as he is desperately chasing the cat his mind fully absorbed in a primal game of Westie the Vermin Chaser.  I then shout at him, "NO.... NO... NO CAT!"  If I don't actually have my hands on him he will seek with every atom of his being to chase the cat in spite of this.  When I do lay hands on him it's like he is jerked awake from some incredible fantasy and he looks at me like "Whoa! What are you doing here?"

So I am thinking that an actual Dog Diary would be filled with many repetitious entries along the lines of "Today, I went OUTSIDE!!!"  and "I ate FOOD!" and "Mom said I wasn't supposed to chase the cat... since when??"  No actually that last one would never make it in because that would indicate that he actually comprehends that I don't want him to chase the cat.  He cannot comprehend a world in which a cat would not be chased.  Of course he is going to chase the cat.  That is what you do with cats, even the ones that you like.  So, no, the dog diary would never have that entry.

Another thing the actual Dog Diary would not have is any reference to any reprimand whatsoever.  They would never talk about 'getting in trouble' because that kind of occurrence evaporates from their brain the moment it is over.  There is a reason that reward systems of training work so well.  That is the only thing they can actually remember.  There would be multiple, multiple entries along the lines of '...and I got a treat!' or '... and then Mom told me I was gooooood!!!'

Of course what they think they are being rewarded for is not always what I think I am rewarding them for.  Positive reinforcement encourages the behavior that was happening right before the reward was given.  This can be very useful if you take a long view and realize that you are steadily approaching perfection.  This is especially true if you have a 'smart' dog, for example - a Border Collie.  They thrive on positive reinforcement and that reinforcement can come in many forms.

Sometimes all it takes for me to reinforce my Border Collie's behavior is a look.  You might be thinking 'Wow that must make her easy to train' and in a certain way you are right, it is just that what you might be 'training' isn't always what you want.  For example, this 'look' reward is what she gets when she interrupts me when I am using the laptop on the bed.  I will be in the middle of say, writing a blog entry, and she will position herself just to the right of my gaze.  A single paw is extended to 'tap' me on my arm and as soon as I look into her eyes she gives me this smile, which automatically causes me to smile back and then I have a puddle of Border Collie squeezing between me and the laptop.  She is so ecstatically happy that I looked at her she is oblivious to any other command.  My only defense is to keep my eyes down when she gives me the 'tap' and then I can command her to do something else.

So definitely in her diary there would be multiple entries of 'Mom LOOKED at me!!!'

Ah well that is all for now... she has tapped and now I am typing over a squirming dog.