Thursday, April 15, 2010

Asking a better question

I’ve spent most of this week gimping around on my bum knee and sneezing my head off. A creative combination of antihistamines and decongestants has remedied the latter to a certain degree. The jury is still out on my knee, although it is feeling much better than it did Sunday night. No doubt three 12-hour days on cement floors at the trials last weekend didn’t do it any favors. Sitting at my desk eight hours a day this week might have actually been good for me.

In spite of the sneezing and the gimping, I’ve managed to get some training time in with Phoenix every day. You don’t have to be incredibly athletic or even able to breathe very well to work out-of-sight stays and that’s been our emphasis because A) we really need the work on them and B) I’m honestly not up for much else in my current state.

I wouldn’t stay I’m totally re-training the stays. I would say I’m going back and clearing up a number of gray areas I let slide when I initially taught them. In other words, Phoenix is not performing up to standards that I failed to enforce in the first place. Bad trainer, bad, bad!

In one of her books, dressage rider/Olympic equestrian coach/author Jane Savoie wrote about “asking a better question.” When faced with a performance issue, instead of asking “Why is my dog acting like a freak?” try asking a question that can lead to a solution, like “What can I do to help my dog work through this?”

For Phoenix and me, that translates to working sits and downs in conditions where he would be tempted to move. Fortunately - from a training standpoint - it’s been pretty easy to find those conditions. The more we work on this, the more I realize I did a really crappy job of training stays in the first place!

Although the NQ-ing part of our problem is the down stay, his sit stay is not above reproach. He tends to fidget and shift his front paws and then his butt shifts to catch up with his front paws and before you know it, he’s scooted forward without ever getting up.

Here’s a short list of things we’ve been doing:

1) No more stay practice with Jamie right next to Phoenix. I always let Jamie do stays with Phoenix because it gave the old man a job but now I’m wondering if Jamie’s constant presence at each session served as a security blanket for Phoenix? Not that I’ve ever met a dog who needed a security blanket LESS than Phoenix but who knows. Having Jamie right there all the time is certainly not the picture he's going to see in the ring.

2) Approaching this with an attitude of “building up,” not “tearing down.” No harsh corrections to worsen his stress level.

3) Keeping emotion out of corrections. Corrections are firm but gentle.

4) Lots of work “disappearing in plain sight” behind him. Does he turn more than just his head to see where I went?

5) Doing stays in unusual places. For us, these are mostly outdoors in places around the farm that Phoenix does not have access to on a daily basis, so they are full of exciting/stimulating/stressful smells and sounds that he would want to go investigate. Since he is not allowed to go to these places by himself (in the machine shed, on the barn yard, down the lane toward the field), being left alone there on a stay creates a fair amount of conflict, allowing him to make a choice about staying or breaking.

6) Can he remain quietly in place when he thinks I am not monitoring him (i.e., talking to someone.)

7) Can he remain quietly in place while I play with Jamie nearby? (Ah-hah! Jamie has found new employment.)

I’m thankful to have three opportunities this coming weekend to train with friends!


  1. I didn't know if Oreo would ever do out of sight stays. If he stayed, he'd bark and cry the whole time. Or he'd just stand up and not move b/c he knew that would get me back. Finally conquered it though! Good luck!

  2. Thanks for pointing out that dogs make a CHOICE to do something when they've learned what is expected. Too many people forget that the dog can and do make choices every day and we have to reward the correct choice and correct (by whatever means fits) the incorrect choice.
    I've hit a bog on the broad jump because I forgot to 'teach' it thoroughly with my young girl. My others have always picked it up with one or two sessions so I assumed she did too. Bad mommy. She chooses sometimes to jump and others to walk thru it or around it. Got some work to do!