This semester's PETS program with Lad Lake (a program for at-risk teen aged boys) has been one of the most difficult so far since I started working with them in 2009. This year there were changes mid-semester in the enrollment -- two of the boys left the program and two were added. Changes like this always leave the group disjointed and makes it difficult for the boys to get into a rhythm of working together as a team.
Additionally, this particular group didn't seem as motivated to train the dogs and seemed to want to goof around quite a bit. Susan (Lad Lake Instructor) and I tried several different things, but both of us were getting frustrated on the lack of progress we were seeing over-all and weren't quite sure how to get the boys excited about working with the dogs.
It was an unmotivated dog that gave me the key. Yogi was a really sweet dog, but not very bright and not motivated to do more than sit. The boys were getting frustrated working with him, and I knew I had to do something to get Yogi interested in working.
I showed the boys how to click and treat for any interaction with a cardboard box -- an exercise coined by clicker training guru Karen Pryor as "101 Things to do with a Box". It's sometimes a great exercise for unmotivated dogs since they don't have to learn anything specific and are rewarded for anything they do that has to do with the box. Yogi really liked this exercise, and as it turned out, so did the boys.
Yogi was adopted, so this week the boys worked with a different dog. They asked if they could use some of the large plastic playground equipment HAWS uses for dog training classes. They had a lot of fun luring Roxie up onto the pieces, and asking her to sit and down.
And then a most amazing thing happened. The boys started to become motivated to try different things, and best of all were working as a team. The video below is of Alex struggling to get Roxie to rollover, while Chauncey does a great job coaching him through it.
Moments where students have a break-through and show visible signs of progress make my job very rewarding and keep me motivated. I hope the boys feel the same way.