Because I know you are all totally and utterly fascinated by Phoenix’s stay issues, I’ll give you an update on what we’re doing in training.
First, I canceled our Open B entries from the Heart of Iowa shows May 1 and 2. That’s less than two weeks away and I don’t want to do something stupid by thinking, “Oh, surely he can do his stays now” and then have a repeat of him exiting the ring again. Two weeks is not enough time (at least in my mind) to fix this problem and I have no desire to practice bad behavior. We’ll still go and do Graduate Open, though.
And even though I’m entered in Waterloo this weekend, we’re not going. Sorry, Michele, I won’t be there to see you and Packer get your CD. Which you will. Because she’s a brilliant Weiner-meier.
My goal is to be ready to show in Open by Mal nationals. That’s four weeks away. We can make some serious progress by then and I feel it will be realistic to show.
After an agonizing amount of thinking (my brain hurts), I concluded that Phoenix’s main issue with stays was that he really didn’t have any idea what he was supposed to do if I wasn’t standing right in front of him. This was proven fairly handily when some friends helped me over the weekend.
Here’s a list of the proofs we worked through. Initially, I was standing right in front of Phoenix. Then I was 30 feet away. Then 30 feet away sitting in a lawn chair with my back turned to him. Then out of the building.
A friend would:
1) Offer a cookie (“Come and get it!”). Toss a cookie on the ground. Put a cookie on his paws.
2) Same thing with toys, especially ones that squeak and bounce.
3) Verbal coaxing, praise, baby-talk and basically encouraging him to leave that stupid old stay and come have some fun.
4) Give different commands: if sitting, telling him to down; if laying down, telling him to sit. Use Utility hand signals.
5) Play “Ready, steady, GO!” right next to him.
6) Pick up his (attached) leash, walk away and saying, “Let’s go!” Put his (unattached) leash on his collar, walk away and say “Let’s go!”
7) Physically try to pull him out of position with the leash.
At first, I had to do a fair amount of re-positioning but as we worked through it all, the light bulb seemed to come on on. I could see the little cartoon bubble over Phoenix's head. It read, "You do all this weird funky stuff and I ignore you. NOW I get it!"
Liz and Jill, you guys were great. Thanks for all the help. Now if we could just do that a dozen more times in a dozen different places! Until we can get another group session together, Phoenix is working stays at home while I play with Jamie. I need to do a lot more “disappearing” behind him, too, because he is quite sure he needs to turn around and look to see if I’m still there. A little paw movement leads to a little more paw movement and pretty soon, he's not sitting where I left him.
We’re also doing stays in “high stress” areas and I’m returning to reward only when Phoenix clearly chooses to ignore a major distraction and makes the decision not to move. I’ve even taken to carrying a cosmetic mirror around with me so I can watch him while I walk away and also around corners when I’m hiding. Good grief, I’m starting to feel like the spy who trains dogs.