Skill A Day: day 20 Your Turn vs Not Your Turn

The concept of “your turn” and “not your turn” is one the dogs and I have been working on for a while.  When Zora was a puppy, I used her dog bed or crate (with door open) to introduce the concept of sharing my attention.  In that exercise set up which we did a lot the dogs would alternate active training with me where one would be lying on the dog bed or in the crate and the other doing a more active training sessions with me.  And then they’d swap.  The on the bed dog learned that staying on the bed was a higher chance of reinforcement than getting off to come interact with me and the other.  This solidified the ‘on the bed’ cue and behavior and really made it so much easier for me to have my dogs down with me when I was teaching.

Lately I have been working on a less formal version of this concept with them.  One where I don’t give the ‘not your turn’ dog a specific behavior to do but simply say ‘not your turn’ and then engage fully with the other.  The ‘your turn’ dog is told so with their name followed by ‘turn.’  So “Tommy’s turn!” and if Zora tries to join in, “No, Zora, not your turn.”  When it’s not Zora’s turn, she can do anything she pleases except engage with Tom and I and what he and I are doing (ok truth be told ‘anything she pleases’ has some boundaries, like not barking out the window, chewing anything up, etc but those aren’t things she generally does).  The same is true for Tom if it’s Zora’s turn.  I will say, Tom as a significantly easier time with this exercise than Zora does.   Then again Tom is a very patient soul.  And Zora, well Zora is a corgi.  ‘Nuff said.

Today we played this exercise with both Tom and Zora of course but also Ted the shih tzu and Dulce the spaniel who are here visiting for the day. Ted and Dulce also have been introduced to the variation of this where ‘on your bed’ is the ‘not your turn’ cue, but not the newer version I described above.  It was an interesting exercise.

When it was not Tom’s turn, he essentially stood behind me, back aways from the group patiently waiting.  Hoping it would be his turn soon.  On the cue, “Tommy’s turn” he came right up and took his turn happy to get a chance to play with me.

When it was not Zora’s turn, it took her a couple of reminders of “Not your turn” then she might offer going to the nearest dog bed, or simply standing off to the side a bit giving space and waiting for, “Zora’s turn!”  When it was her turn, she came to play but was definitely a bit more subdued than she usually is.  I think having the extras of Ted and Dulce made her a bit uncomfortable.  As the environment was definitely more chaotic than usual.

When it was not Dulce’s turn, she offered a lot of going to the nearest dog bed.  Or trying to mimic what I was getting the ‘your turn’ dog to do.  The 2nd rep through the doggie group cycle though, she had an easier time simply giving space and waiting.  When it was her turn, she started off running to offer an on the dog bed, then running to different places in the room.  I think since I was asking her to come to me and that would mean she had to move nearer to Ted, she wanted to avoid a potential conflict with him.  After a little encouragement and my reminding Ted it wasn’t his turn, she came to me and played happily.

When it was not Ted’s turn, he struggled.  No real surprise there.  Ted struggles with sharing in many aspects of his life.  But I was pleased with him because his struggling today meant he either stayed close to my side or stood there a bit confused.  That’s a big reminder of Ted’s progress as at one point in his life Ted struggling would have looked like him pushing, growling or attacking the dogs who came near, or he would have been overwhelmed and hid under the desk probably also growling.  When it was Ted’s turn he was there in an instant albeit a bit confused why I was asking him to figure out how to back up which is not something he knows how to do instead of giving him treats for sitting which he does a lot.  And even better when after his turn it was once again not his turn, he was cool with that and once more waited without escalation for it to be his turn again.  Good boy!

The Tuesday Crew Tom, Zora, Ted & Dulce snoozing on the couch & floor

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