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Tuesday, December 21, 2010


FLD Gus has a habit.  He brings me shoes.

I am the reason he has this habit.

The very first time FLD Gus grabbed up a shoe, I did not chase him, or yell at him; I called his name to get his attention on me.  He turned and stopped, with the shoe secure in his mouth.  I squatted down and he pranced over to me.  Good boy, Gus!  I took hold of the shoe.  Without pulling it away, I said, Gus, give.  He released it and I wholeheartedly praised him.  Good give, Gus!  What a good boy you are!

FLD Gus was already familiar with the GIVE command; I introduced GIVE (and TAKE) early on in his time with me.  Whenever Gus opened his needle-teeth mouth to chew on, say, the rocking chair runner, I called Gus and offered him a Nylabone instead.  Take.  When Gus was happily chewing away on a Nylabone (or Kong), I oftentimes reached for it and said, Gus, give.  I would not get into a tug-o-war with him, but as soon as he let go of the toy, I rewarded him with praise.  Good give, Gus!  (For more on the TAKE/GIVE command, check out my post of October 5, 2010.)

Unfortunately, FLD Gus associated my "Good boy, Gus" after he GAVE me the shoe with the entire sequence of bringing me the shoe!  So far, he hasn't chewed up or damaged any shoes; he just proudly brings them to me.  And so far, our "strategy" in dealing with Gus's shoe delivery habit is to keep our shoes out of reach.  But with these snowy times and holiday visitors (who leave their shoes in the back hallway), this strategy isn't working.

What do I do now to fix this miscommunication?

I have been telling Gus to LEAVE IT whenever I "catch" him in the act of going after a shoe.  Gus listens to me, but I don't catch him every time.  As a next step, I planned to "set him up" by staging a shoe and adding a strong NO! or even a leash-correction when he went for it.

Before I tried this, I decided to get some expert advice.

Tonight, at FLD Gus's last Foundation Puppy Class at Leader Dogs for the Blind, I asked our instructor, Bev, for some suggestions.

Bev agrees that FLD Gus is confused about the GIVE command, but also that he's figured out that he gets attention from me whenever he carries a shoe around.  "Any attention is attention, even if it is negative," Bev said.  She explained that I need to stop giving Gus the attention he seeks, AND I need to clarify and reinforce the TAKE/GIVE command.


Give no eye contact when Gus brings me a shoe; just ignore him.  If Gus proceeds to chew the shoe, calmly take it away from him, without saying anything, and put it right back where he got it.
Take the shoe away and replace it with one of his toys, using the TAKE command.

Tell Gus to GIVE me the shoe, take it from him; immediately offer the shoe back to him saying TAKE.  Then ignore him.  (Hopefully he will loose interest in the shoe.)

Periodically offer a toy to Gus with the TAKE command; then use the GIVE command to retrieve the toy.  Praise Gus when he complies.

In planning a strategy to fix a behavior, it is important to fully understand what is driving the behavior.

My plan to "stage" a shoe and correct FLD Gus's behavior may have stopped him from going after shoes, but he probably would just find another behavior to "get my attention."  And if I really think about when Gus is most likely to "steal" a shoe, it might just be when his walk is over-due.

I think I need to add another task to my list.

After ignoring Gus for a short time after retrieving a shoe, I'll call him to me, clip on his leash and either take him for a walk, or practice some in-house obedience.

I'll let you know how thing progress in changing FLD Gus's shoe delivery habit!

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