These days I’m watching a lot of dog behavior.
I can see that hunting is very important to Brito. He will do this for a very long time. Can you see how he is determined to find the scent and pinpoint it accurately? Can you see that he is fully oriented to this activity? He is intent on what he is doing but aware of what is happening around him (which would not be obvious in this clip but I watched for more than 30 minutes…). He’s hunting. That is Brito’s dominant interest; using his nose and searching for game of some type or another. In this case, it’s a rat and her babies under the deck.
For most of my observation time, I am sitting 20 feet away. I have a ball and food and he knows this. Here and there he’ll come over and visit me, though the first time he didn’t leave that spot for over 30 minutes. When he visits I give him cookies and throw his ball until he remembers the critters and then he returns to his hunt.
Because I find dog behavior interesting, and because I like seeing my dog ultimately happy and engaged, I can watch this for hours and indeed, I do. And I learn quite a lot.
I want to know what my dog cares about. I want to know what my dog looks like when he is ultimately engaged and happy. I want to know how long he will persist in tasks that absorb him on the most fundamental level. How does he handle frustration? Is his threshold for frustration high or low? What variables influence that frustration level?
And in spite of his absorption and his love of this activity, I can call him to me if I want him or if I want to play. Most (but not all) of the time he is able to respond to a recall cue away from the deck.
He does not come to me because I have food or toys; he could have had those at any time simply by walking over and asking. He comes because that is his habit; that is what he has been trained to do and it’s what we do together.
And if I want I can ask him to work.
He does not work because he prefers that to hunting. He works because that is also his habit; it is what he has been trained to do and it is what we do together. But if I ask for more than a minute of work under these circumstances, we’ll regress in our training. I know that because I’ve tried out various combinations of hunting, working and playing.
Here, I have learned that his attention span is fantastic for activities that matter to him. I have learned that if I sit close to him (2 feet), he will check in with me more often than if I sit further away (20 feet). If I leave altogether, I have learned that he will persist on his own for a few more minutes but then he comes to find me. He wants me there as a companion or possibly as a source of comfort – I don’t know.
I have learned that if he asks for work after he has hunted for an extended period of time – maybe 20 minutes or so – he can give me fantastic work! More intensity and effort that I ever see in a more traditional training setup. Maybe he is channeling his frustrated hunting interested into prey – chasing the ball. Maybe he is simply in a fantastic mood from his hunting activity, and it is carrying over into his work. Maybe he’s happy that I am letting him be a dog and giving him a chance to do his own doggy things. I don’t really know, but it’s all interesting. Maybe over time I could try and ferret out the relevant variables.
I am fascinated by dogs being dogs. Observing, listening, wondering, considering.
Try it; let your dog be a dog. Just watch. Don’t interrupt. Don’t influence. Just watch. What do you see? What does your dog love, independent of you? How, when and why does your presence influence your dog?
Next week I’ll give you anther simple activity to learn more about your dog – who he is independent of you.